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Operations Intern to Plant & Process Engineer by Abby Holloway

It all started back in 5th grade when I wanted to be an astronaut. Not just a little kid thinking it would be cool, but a space-obsessed 11-year-old who had printed cut-outs of the Apollo mission patches on my bedroom walls and “Fat Head”-esque stickers of the space shuttle, the moon, planets, and an astronaut decorating the wall above my bed. I actually had those stickers on the wall until we renovated my room when I was home the summer after sophomore year of college, when I was 20 years old. My name is Abby Holloway, and this is the story of how an intern came to be a Plant & Process Engineer at AFB International in July 2022.

I don’t remember when I transitioned from wanting to be an astronaut and instead an aerospace engineer because I no longer wanted to leave the planet. But I was set on being an aerospace engineer until junior year of high school. It was then I discovered aerospace was not quite what I thought it was and thought, “Well, shoot. What now? I’ve been looking at schools and wanted to do aerospace engineering for so many years!” I was advised to zoom out from the focused, niche industry that aerospace is and go to college pursuing a mechanical engineering degree. Okay, problem solved, new degree chosen, I’m all set. Right?

I had no idea what to pursue with a mechanical engineering degree because of the sheer number of things you can pursue and tailor this kind of degree to. Especially where I attended college—Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, IN, USA. After taking a few classes and learning about the endless opportunities for mechanical engineers along with a friendly connection via my basketball coach, I found an interest and an internship opportunity in plastic injection molding. My first two internships were with companies that used this process daily. After the second internship, however, I realized that I did not want my career to be in an industry that perpetuates the global plastic problem. Again, I thought to myself, “Well, shoot. What now?”

Enter stage left: AFB International. I was contacted via LinkedIn about an Operations Intern opportunity and the rest is history! Just kidding, I won’t leave you with a cliffhanger like that. The summer of 2021, I interned as an Ops Intern at AFB’s O’Fallon, MO facility. I spent all summer learning how AFB palatants are made, how spray dryers work, and gained some hands-on knowledge about heat exchangers, which I had just learned more in depth in class that spring. I told my parents about 2-3 weeks into my internship that I found the place I want to work at after graduation. By the end of the summer, I loved my experience and AFB loved me, and I accepted my full-time job offer on the first day of my last year of school to be a Plant & Process Engineer at the Aurora, MO facility.

Kayaking on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri

Fast forward to July 2022, I have graduated from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology with my B.S. of Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Six Sigma. My cat, Mozart, and I moved to Springfield, MO, only about 30 minutes from Aurora, 1 hour from Joplin, and 3 hours from both St. Louis and Kansas City. I’ve made new friends that also enjoy the outdoors and appreciating everything the Ozarks have to offer, like beautiful hiking trails, plenty of rivers and lakes to kayak on, and awesome places to camp. I quickly made some wonderful connections with the people I work with every day, both operators who are affected by the projects I do and have a wealth of knowledge, and the other members of the engineering team who also have a lot of information to share and guide me with.

In my full-time role so far, I’ve implemented a new and revamped 5S program across the plant. With the help of a cross-functional team, 5S received a makeover where it already existed and also set the bar as 5S continues to expand across the entire facility. As the spray dry “(future) expert” as of January 2023, I am currently monitoring the OEE (Overall Equipment Efficiency) of our spray dryers and using downtime data and production scheduling to improve the amount of time the dryers are operating and without issues. I will be responsible for spray dryer-related capital projects and, in an attempt to always be learning something new, maintenance and smaller projects, too. As most of my coworkers will tell you, it’s difficult to describe an average day here at the plant because every day is different from the day before and the days to come. I can tell you that I try to get out on the production floor and keep in touch with the operators who I’ve become good friends with. I try to stay up-to-date on my OEE data collection and calculations and try to move forward with my capital projects.

Intern at AFB International
Collaborating on a process improvement project

One last fun fact or tidbit—I always have my office decorated for the upcoming holiday, whether it’s big (in terms of how much people typically decorate) like Christmas or smaller like Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day. My grandma’s hobby prior to her passing was painting ceramic decorations, and I inherited a lot of them. So I try to keep the engineering office light and fun and as pretty as you can make an engineering office because I’m the only non-male engineer here. I also don’t like to work in a blank box! I keep candy in a dish on my desk for anyone that stops by, too.

So that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it! I encourage you to reach out if you would like information and help getting to the right people for internship or check out our full-time job opportunities!