Eighth graders’ perspectives on manufacturing change after fun tour at Holcim Building Envelope

Oct 23, 2023

Prior to visiting Holcim Building Envelope, a Northern Kentucky manufacturer of roofing insulation material, eighth-grade students from St. Paul Catholic School in Florence used words such as “heat, machines, loud, and dark,” on a pre-tour survey to describe their ideas of a manufacturing facility. 

On a scale of “dark and dirty” (1) to “clean and organized” (4), students envisioned the facility would have a cleanliness rating of 2.6. 

Holcim Building Envelope Senior Plant Manager Jesse Megenhardt said there are often pre-conceived perceptions of a manufacturing environment, and until people visit a facility, they don’t understand the reality of manufacturing in 2023. 

Megenhardt said he hoped to change the students’ ideas about the industry during a tour at the Holcim Building Envelope facility on Oct. 6, which was celebrated as “Manufacturing Day” throughout the country. Holcim Building Envelope is one of many local manufacturers opening their doors to students this month. 

Over the past three years, BE NKY Growth Partnership has announced more than 1,600 new jobs in Boone, Kenton, and Campbell counties in the advanced manufacturing sector, which is projected to see nine percent employment growth between 2020-2025. 

According to the pre-survey, 16 of the 22 St. Paul students had never been to a manufacturing facility before, and only three students knew of a family member or friend who works in manufacturing. Megenhardt said the company was excited to show students that the environment at the plant is the opposite of what they were expecting. 

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This was the second year the facility has hosted students, and Megenhardt said they wanted this year’s tour to be more hands-on.  

The students first learned about the company’s polyisocyanurate thermal insulation and its chemical composition. Holcim Building Envelope takes materials such as isocyanate, polyol, and isopentane and blends them together to create a foam insulation material, which is even on the roof of St. Paul.

At the beginning of the tour, students got to see these materials, usually housed in large storage tanks, in small containers in their raw state. 

Further into the production process, students each received their own large cup that was filled with the foam material, and they got to see the chemical reaction taking place. This reaction usually occurs under pressure in a controlled environment, so this activity allowed the students to see the reaction unconstrained, and the foam in their cups quickly outgrew the container, which they got to keep as a souvenir. 

Students also had the opportunity to see welding, quality testing of the insulation product, and the loading of the product onto trucks. 

Holcim Building Envelope, a Northern Kentucky manufacturer of roofing insulation material, hosted eighth graders from St. Paul Catholic School in Florence for Manufacturing Day on Oct. 6. | Photo provided: BE NKY Growth Partnership

Megenhardt has worked in manufacturing his entire career and wants to give kids an idea of the types of jobs they can get right out of school, even without a college education.

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