Laminator

The Job and What's Involved

Laminators work with polymer composite materials, such as glass fibre, to produce a range of items that includes:

  • Glass fibre hulls for speed boats, yachts, hovercraft, canoes and military craft.
  • Blades for large commercial wind turbines.
  • Aerospace components, including wings, panels and cabin interiors.
  • Caravans and mobile homes.
  • Formula 1 racing cars and sports car bodies.
  • Motorcycle helmets, skis, snowboards, racing bicycles and hockey sticks.

Laminating can also involve using wood laminates or modern materials like Kevlar for the motor sport and aerospace industry. Kevlar is a versatile material that is strong, tough, stiff, high melting and well suited for uses such as radial tyres, heat or flame-resistant fabrics and bullet-proof clothing.

Laminators begin with a mould into which the material is pressed, poured or sometimes sprayed. Depending upon the type of item required, laminators obtain the correct materials and follow instructions to produce the strength, colour and finish required.

If the product is the hull of a vessel, they will begin by covering the inner side of the hull-shaped mould with layers of glass fibre matting and resin. They use different thicknesses in different parts of the hull for added strength and waterproofing.

A hull may have up to eight layers of glass fibre matting and resin applied before it is left to harden completely. The laminators will have to wait for each layer of resin to harden before applying the next layer. The mould, which forms the outer shell, is then split into two parts and moved away, leaving the glass fibre hull. This is then polished using power sanders to a fine gloss finish and then fitted out to the customer's specifications.

Similar procedures apply to the construction of car bodies and aircraft cabin interiors.

Some laminators work with engineers and scientists on research and development projects in major companies or universities.

Laminators normally work a 37 to 40-hour week, but this may be considerably longer depending on the project they are involved in and the deadline to which they are working.

They usually work in environmentally controlled areas with set temperatures to help the resin harden quickly. The air must be changed and circulated regularly to clear the dust and smell of resin.

Laminators wear overalls and protective clothing.

Apprentices start at around £10,000 a year. With more experience and qualifications this could rise to £25,000.

Senior laminators can earn up to £30,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

UK boat building is a growing industry, with new orders reversing many years of decline. Boat building and repair are carried out in areas around the coast of the UK, especially in southern England and on inland waterways across the country. Employers are mainly small or medium-sized firms.

Jobs are always available for qualified laminators and can be found in the local press and Jobcentres in the areas where boat building yards are sited. Laminators are also in demand by automotive, shipbuilding and aeronautical manufacturers. There are also specialist laminating and composites companies that supply the marine, aero, sport, construction and automotive companies with products, design and manufacturing services across the country.

Vacancies can be found in Plastics and Rubber Weekly and on relevant job search web sites such as www.thecareerengineer.com

Education and Training

There are no formal qualifications to work as a laminator/plastics process operative, although some GCSE's can be useful and may be required by some employers. The Diplomas in engineering, manufacturing and product design and construction and the built environment may be relevant for this area of work.

It is possible to begin training for craft or technician-level jobs straight from school with GCSE's in English, maths and science.

Many laminators start with an employer as a technician apprentice. Most apprentices are aged 16 to 24 and entry is with four GCSE's (A*-C), including maths and science or technology. A GCSE in manufacturing or engineering may also be suitable for this entry route.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

With Apprenticeships, the more theoretical aspects of the work may be covered by day or block release to study at a local college. Along with workplace assessments, this can lead to NVQ Level 2 in polymer processing operations, or performing engineering operations and NVQ Level 3 in polymer processing and related operations.

If the training does not include NVQ Level 3, a workplace assessment will be carried out to check competence at this level. Companies also tend to use a series of short course programme's with a specialist education or training provider to build up gradually the skills and knowledge required to perform the role of a laminator. These include health and safety, product and material handling and first aid.

In order to progress, trainees should aim to get a BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in polymer processing and materials technology or a general engineering subject. This can then be supplemented with an NVQ Level 3 in a discipline appropriate to the type of activity carried out within the company. It is important that trainees understand about the materials that are used in the specific industry in which they work.

Once technician status has been achieved it is possible to combine studying with further experience to reach BTEC/Edexcel Higher National Diploma (HND) level in manufacturing engineering (metallurgy and materials), polymer science or polymer technology.

Qualified laminators can become members of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining as Engineering Technicians (EngTech).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Laminators need:

  • Knowledge of polymer and plastics technology.
  • Practical skills for handling tools and instruments.
  • To understand engineering drawings and principles.
  • Basic numeracy skills to measure and mix quantities of raw materials.
  • The ability to set up and use a range of equipment and machinery.
  • To be able to work to health and safety requirements.
  • To be able to follow instructions and production schedules.
  • To be able to work quickly and steadily on repetitive tasks.
  • A reasonable level of physical fitness.
  • Good vision for checking quality.
  • To be able to pay attention to detail in their work.

Your Long Term Prospects

Laminators can progress to senior technician, or move into purchasing, sales and management.

Laminators may also find work with engineering consultancies providing project installation services for clients.

Some may progress into design or research and development (R&D) work in composite/laminate manufacturing companies or within specialist R&D companies.

Get Further Information

British Plastics Federation
Tel: 020 7457 5000
Website: www.bpf.co.uk

EngineeringUK
Tel: 020 3206 0400
Website: www.engineeringuk.com

Enginuity, engineering and technology careers
Website: www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk

Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining
Tel: 020 7451 7300
Website: www.iom3.org

SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science,
Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies)
Tel: 01923 238441
Learning helpline 0800 282167
Website: www.semta.org.uk

Women into Science, Engineering
and Construction (WISE)
Tel: 020 3206 0408
Website: www.wisecampaign.org.uk

Women's Engineering Society
Tel: 01438 765506
Website: www.wes.org.uk

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