October 27, 2003 Update: Please know that Mr. Linn and Mr. Schneider have moved to different branches of Flint Ink. The Branch Manager is now Kevin Bell. Mr. Bell states that Flint Ink of Weyers Cave can not offer tours during their busy season (Labor Day through Christmas) but welcomes groups at other times by reservation only.

Flint Ink
Weyers Cave
(800) 683-0650

I had never given much serious thought to the production of ink. It's just sort of in the pen and I write with it. A tour of Flint Ink drastically altered my perception of how ink is manufactured and marketed. I will never think of ink in the same way again.

Flint Ink, a family owned company, is the "largest American-owned manufacturer of printing inks, inkjet inks and toners for newspapers, directory, magazine, packaging, commercial and digital printing applications". Its distribution is worldwide to six continents and they operate nearly 100 facilities in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, South America, Africa and Australia. Worldwide, Flint Ink employs 3500 people and generates two billion in annual sales. Half of all employees are directly involved in the making of ink in batches ranging from one pound to 12,000 pounds.

One of Flint Ink's branches is in Weyers Cave, between Staunton and Harrisonburg. I arranged our tour with Branch Manager Steve Linn. During our conversations prior to the field trip, Mr. Linn was most informative and went out of his way to insure a successful experience. Upon our arrival, Mr. Linn and Rick Schneider, Lab Manager, took our group of eight (maximum group size allowed) into a comfortable conference room and proceeded to amaze us with ink facts. They take ink very seriously. By the end of the tour, so did we.

On the conference table we found several examples of how their ink is used and who buys their products. One of their customers is National Geographic; amazingly, a poster we had received with our Jason Project packet was on the table! Several strong magnifiers allowed us to understand ink variations. We spent about an hour discussing how ink is manufactured, the chemistry involved, different processes, explanations of what to expect when we went into the lab and production rooms, and more.

Going into the lab and production areas was equally interesting for all of us. The huge barrels of inks being stirred were all the better because the kids were allowed to see the process up close. In the lab, we were allowed to feel the consistency of inks. In the shipping department, Mr. Linn arranged for us to climb onto a tractor trailer truck that transports the products and some of us got to blow the horn. Amazingly, these trucks have satellites on them that allow the trucker to be in constant communication with the plant via computer.

Particularly interesting to me, as well as the older kids in our group, was the discussion of career opportunities. Mr. Linn explained that they are moving the factories from the big cities to the countryside largely because of the character and work ethic of the residents - like those workers they can find in the Shenandoah Valley. (I suppose that is why some of our favorite factory tours have been in the valley as well as why so many tractor trailers are on 81!) Both Mr. Linn and Mr. Schneider outlined their educational backgrounds and career histories, and provided words of wisdom for young people. Math skills were stressed and samples of pre-employment testing problems were given. Their frank discussion stressed personal responsibility for learning - all things homeschoolers value. That alone made this field trip worth it.

Mr. Linn's recommended age for the tour was middle and high school students although he was flexible with the few in our group who were younger. I could understand why these age recommendations were in place. Older kids will benefit more from the experience and there is so much information that kids with short attention spans could get distracted. For the most part, our group stayed focused and certainly had a lot of questions. We were at the plant a total of two and a half hours. Never once did I see our guides check their watches. They did not seem in a hurry and encouraged any and all questions. Their child-friendly approach was summarized by Mr. Linn's statement, "I like to do this for kids because I see them as our future employees and co-workers."

From another perspective, we noticed that the workers in this plant appeared happy and into their work. Proud even. There were windows where we could see outside and the ventilation system worked. We experienced quite a contrast that afternoon when we toured a nearby book factory that buys Flint Ink. This was more of a canned tour, the workers had a different attitude, nobody seemed to like their jobs, and the guts of the plant were oppressive and depressing. Our group that had maintained interest for 2 1/2 hours while learning about ink couldn't stand one hour in a book factory even though they had books familiar to us in production. No one was interested in a mass book production career.

Over the years, our family has toured quite a few factories. There are definitely good factory tours and bad factory tours. This was a really good tour - Mr. Linn and Mr. Schneider made the difference.

Mary Wilson...
Email: mary@trailz.org

Click here for Flint Ink Corporate web page

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