Penn College, leading company form perfect ‘package’

Published 01.15.2019

Welding & Metal Fabrication
Alumni News
Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies News
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Allan Myers

On the surface, the three men have little in common. One looks like a vibrant, distinguished grandfather with his neatly trimmed white goatee and confident gait. The second could pass for a lead singer in a rock band with his lip and nose rings, faded T-shirt and long hair. The third appears to be a budding executive with his coiffed hair and button-down shirt complemented by a perfect smile.

They are separated by appearance, age, background and job title. But the three share educational roots at Pennsylvania College of Technology and mission at Packaging Progressions Inc. in Souderton.

Packaging Progressions Inc. in Souderton – the world’s leading supplier of high-speed interleaving and stacking machines – boasts a multi-generational connection to Penn College. Company founder and chairman Larry Ward (center) graduated from Penn College’s predecessor institution, Williamsport Area Community College, in 1966. Welder/fabricator Brett E. Stanley (left), of Lancaster, graduated from Penn College in 2012, and automation engineer Johnathan T. Capps, of North Wales, earned his degree from the college last May. Larry Ward founded the company to design and build packaging machines for the food industry. What began in the early 1990s with five employees and first-year sales of $250,000 has grown into a $30-million-a-year business and reputation as the world’s leading manufacturer and supplier of high-speed interleaving and stacking machines. Those units are responsible for the insertion of paper separating individual items in food packaging.

Today, two of Ward’s 60 employees are Penn College graduates: welder/fabricator Brett E. Stanley, of Lancaster, and automation engineer Johnathan T. Capps, of North Wales. Stanley, who earned an associate degree in welding technology in 2012, has worked at the company since 2016. Capps used his associate degree in mechatronics (2016) and bachelor’s degree in applied technology studies (2018) to secure his position at Packaging Progressions last May.

The decision to hire both was an easy one, according to Ward, thanks to their Penn College background.

“Penn College has the students that we need. We need people with actual hands-on experience,” he said.

Ward knows firsthand the value of Penn College’s skill-based education. He credits his time studying engineering drafting technology at predecessor institutions Williamsport Technical Institute and Williamsport Area Community College as key to his eventual success.

“I got a skill I could actually use, and they offered a full-rounded education,” said the 1966 graduate, who proudly displays a Williamsport Technical Institute hat in his office. “It was a great education. I learned a lot. It got me here.”

As did myriad experiences. Ward designed typewriters for Smith Corona, served as a Navy deep-sea diver, and worked as a hyperbaric engineer at the University of Pennsylvania before transitioning to design, engineering and sales in the packaging machinery industry.

One constant for Ward was his education.

Larry Ward“You don’t realize how much you learn in school until after you get out and you say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that. I remember studying that or studying this.’ You don’t realize how much you rely on that education,” he said.

Ward started Packaging Progressions in 1989 to market his Arc-Tronic Hole Perforator invention. The device employs an electric arc to create clean vent holes in plastic film storing food products.

Three years later, Ward purchased the rights to interleaving equipment from a failed company and began an adventure that has resulted in a 35,000-square-foot facility, mostly consumed by stainless steel machinery destined for use throughout the United States and at least 15 other countries by major food processors.

As chairman, Ward no longer works countless hours, but he’s a constant presence and intimately involved with Packaging Progressions’ research and development efforts.

Ward’s office is just a short stroll from the shop floor where machines are engineered, manufactured and tested. There, he’s apt to encounter Capps, the young automation engineer, programming a unit with his laptop. A couple hundred yards away in the fabrication shop, he can visit Stanley, the other Penn College alumnus, as he welds parts and frames for the stacking and interleaving machines.

From their enthusiastic approach to their tasks, it’s obvious that Capps and Stanley are following Ward’s life credo: “Find something you love to do, and you will be good at it.”

Growing up, both knew they wanted to work with their hands and were aware of Penn College through family connections. Stanley’s uncles – operators of an autobody and repair shop – graduated from Williamsport Area Community College, and Capps’ father has recruited at the college for two decades as director of talent acquisitions for Allan Myers, a heavy civil construction company and materials provider.

Johnathan T. Capps“I heard about Penn College since I was a little kid,” Capps said. “I never realized how awesome the school was until I went and visited, and it just felt like home.”

A home that included Capps’ dream major: mechatronics.

“It encapsulates the electrical and the mechanical,” he said. “I wanted to learn more about hydraulics and pneumatics, as well as networking and 3D modeling. It was all just perfect.”

Capps connected with Packaging Progressions at the college’s Career Fair during his junior year. That initial meeting led to a summer internship, which resulted in a job offer prior to graduation.

“I fell in love with what they did and wanted to grow more in the business,” Capps said. “There’s no better feeling than knowing you have a place to work before graduating.

Capps draws on his education daily, whether he’s floor-testing machines, programming equipment, devising CAD drawings or engaging in research and development.

“The hands-on foundation they give you at Penn College has been truly beneficial,” he said. “You come into the job with a general foundation of knowledge, and from there you can learn the nuances of the business that you are in.”

Stanley shared a similar sentiment about his Penn College education.

Brett E. Stanley “Increasing your value as a welder means having a multifaceted skill set,” he said. “Penn College equipped me with such, which allowed me to take any good job offer, regardless of the industry or the welding process required. I constantly think back on things I learned at Penn College and subconsciously carry the good habits and wisdom instilled in me by my professors.”

From nuclear power to biopharmaceutical to modular building, Stanley employed his welding skills in several industries before accepting his position at Packaging Progressions, a job he is quite thankful for.

“I enjoy the work, the people, the pace, the mental challenges, the hands-on problem-solving and the windows for creativity,” he said.

While pursuing his passion for craftmanship at Penn College, Stanley embraced the creative aspects of welding, which he highlights often on his popular Instagram account (@Stonexsteel).

“I did my best to study the puddle for those two years,” he said. “The concept itself is absolutely fascinating. The execution of welding is truly an art form, and to see the progression of your own skills is really fulfilling.”

Ward, who donates materials and equipment to the college and sponsors a commencement award for mechatronics students, is pleased that Stanley and Capps are sharing their skills with Packaging Progressions. Just the mention of their names generates a smile, one that grows wider with the thought of future graduates from his alma mater following their path.

“We’ll be up there recruiting at the job fairs,” he said. “We’re doing our best to partner with the college and give graduates a job where they can have a good career, enjoy their work and make a great living.”

Sounds like the perfect “package.”

For more about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education and workforce development, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.