AUBURN — On Friday morning, 50 sixth-graders pulled on hairnets and safety glasses and hit the factory floor at UF Strainrite to learn more about the maple syrup-chocolate-race car paint-contact lens solution-orange juice businesses.

UF Strainrite is in all of them.

The company makes filters — “What I always say is, if it’s wet, we have a filter there somewhere,” Operations Manager Peter Brown said — and opened its doors to school kids for the annual Maine Manufacturing Day.

The event is designed to expose children to the array of jobs in the field: stitchers, engineers, machine operators, accountants.

“Most of you here probably never heard the Strainrite name before today,” Brown said. “That’s kind of true for all of manufacturing. When you’re making a product, they tend to get spread out all over the globe in all shapes and forms. (Without filters like theirs,) orange juice stops, and that’s not a good thing.”

Lisa Martin, executive director of the Manufacturers Association of Maine, said 23 companies from Bar Harbor to North Berwick held tours Friday. 

Maine has about 1,175 manufacturers and 54,900 manufacturing jobs, and manufacturing produces 9 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, according to a proclamation from Gov. Paul LePage declaring October Manufacturing Month.

Robin Lapoint, who owns UF Strainrite with her husband, Alan, said the company has grown a lot since her husband’s father founded it in Massachusetts in 1978. John Lapoint Jr. was eventually drawn to Maine by its workforce and quality of life, she said.

The company is headquartered at 65 First Flight Drive.

“We employ about 100 people. We manufacture. We’re pretty passionate about it,” Lapoint said ahead of the tour. “We see this as a great opportunity to get future employees excited at the possibility of working in places like the Strainrite company.”

The sixth-graders from East Auburn and Washburn elementary schools learned about ultrasonic welds, walked through the fabrication shop where metal is cut and watched half a dozen stitchers sew long, white filtration bags.

Manager Karen Freeman ticked off some of the necessary skills to work there: the ability to type with all 10 fingers, customer service skills, reading skills, math skills, the ability to use a tape measure.

In manufacturing, you get to design for problems, she said. “When you go to work, people want your ideas. It takes a bunch of people to figure out how to make something work.”

Paige Morgan, 11, said she thought the tour was “awesome.” She liked seeing how the tin housing was made in the fab shop.

“Some of it is automated, but how much calculation it took just to get that perfect” was cool to see, said Sam Wilson, 11.

Oracle Stoner, 12, a home-schooled student, could maybe see herself working there someday. Her father, Sean, is an engineer at the plant.

“I love sewing,” she said.

Gail Kezer from the office of U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, compiled a long list for the students of things they might be surprised to learn are manufactured in Maine: the wooden Easter eggs for the White House Easter Egg Roll, the seats at Gillette Stadium, the little wires found on braces for people’s teeth, the cardboard drink carriers found at fast-food chains across the country.

“I hope you never learn this firsthand, I really do, but the majority of handcuffs carried by police officers around the country are made in Houlton, Maine, at Smith & Wesson,” Kezer said. “The patent for those handcuffs is held by a worker at the plant who moved up the chain to be plant manager and to this day he holds the patent on Smith & Wesson key-less handcuffs. Check it out — but only on the Internet.”

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: