"It's a lot more fun than most people understand. You don't always get to make things in other jobs."

High school students got an up-close look Friday at the variety of skills needed to make vinyl siding.

CertainTeed in McPherson invited groups to tour their McPherson facility Friday as part of Manufacturing Month, organized by the McPherson Chamber of Commerce and McPherson Industrial Development Corporation. The plant makes different types of vinyl siding for a variety of uses throughout the country.

"It's a lot more fun than most people understand," said Janet Lynch, plant manager. "You don't always get to make things in other jobs."

CertainTeed employs 94 people and operates around the clock. Some jobs require college education, but others are entry-level positions open to a wider spectrum of people.

The McPherson facility includes a distribution center and the main plant where product is made.

Austin Butcher, environment and engineering manager, led the first tour of the day Friday morning with a group from McPherson High School. After a safety briefing, the group took a look at many different aspects of manufacturing at the plant and the types of careers each step involves.

For example, CertainTeed uses micro-ingredients, or tiny bits of polymer, in their siding. Different pellets can add different colors or other properties to the siding, and they take a convergence of a few different scientific disciplines to make.

"This requires chemical engineers, material scientists and other Ph.D-level people to make," Butcher said.

The machines that make the product require programming, which requires someone with the technical skill to teach machines how to perform different tasks.

Once the product is done, quality assurance employees inspect the siding to make sure it meets CertainTeed standards and customer demands.

CertainTeed also tracks and analyzes data about their products, including any product that turns out faulty, in order to improve their processes.

"We're looking at the day-to-day trends constantly," Butcher said. "We track any issues that come up so we can make our product better."

CertainTeed is also looking at the future of automation with robotic arms that can perform a variety of tasks, from welding to painting. These developments can make workplaces safer and more efficient.

"The sky's the limit," Butcher said. "They can do anything a human arm can do."

Lynch added that automation doesn't have to mean a loss of jobs. In fact, she said her plant is planning ahead so that when automation is phased in, people don't have to be let go.

"Automation doesn't replace an employee," she said. "Automation can put parts in a box, but we need people who can program the robots to do those things."

Mechanics are needed to perform equipment maintenance, Butcher said, and it takes a person to streamline operations for maximum efficiency, such as laying out a warehouse so that as little time as possible is wasted moving products from one shelf to another.

"The sky's the limit with careers here," he said. "There are many different types of positions for many different types of people."