Barnhouse said rubber companies in general don't encourage or are reluctant to allow technical people to attend industry conferences, for proprietary or financial reasons.
“You can't go out and learn something new,” and exchange ideas with peers from other businesses, he said—not giving away company secrets but engaging in knowledge cross-fertilization.
Computers are excellent tools, Barnhouse said, but they can't replace the hands-on knowledge veterans can provide to younger technical people via mentoring. He speaks from experience.
“I had some outstanding mentors in my early days at B.F. Goodrich,” said the consultant. “Older guys who had done the job for years were still working there, and they would give lots of good advice.”
Barnhouse said he had a big advantage in his career starting out at BFG at its Engineered Systems Division in Akron.
“Goodrich made everything in rubber, from hot water bottles to rubber balls, condoms, shoe soles, belts,” he said.
Every two or three years, Goodrich would rotate its young chemists to a different product area.
For a couple of years, Barnhouse would be working on compounding rubber for graphic arts, then switch to working on chemical tank linings for rail cars, followed by a stint with rubber bands.
“I got a taste of everything except tires,” he said, never moving into that division.
He pointed to Goodyear's Flying Squadron and programs at other manufacturing giants as similar activities.
That type of training is missing in rubber manufacturing today, Barnhouse said.
“We have big rubber companies, but they have gravitated to what they consider their core business,” he said. That means if the firm makes molded rubber widgets, “that's what you'll be doing your whole life.
“It may be a different widget, but it's still a widget.”
In this common scenario, the only way to get broad experience is to leave your job and start over every couple of years, Barnhouse said. “And that's suicide in regards to coming up with a savings plan.”
At Goodrich, he eventually was transferred to the firm's Elastomers and Latex Division.
He became a market development manager, putting in lots of overseas travel, promoting and selling BFG's polymers and rubber chemicals.
Barnhouse was in that division when Goodrich sold it to Nippon Zeon Co. Ltd. in 1989.
The employees had misgivings when the deal was made.
“Most Americans had a bad feeling about being sold, especially to a non-American entity,” he said. “A lot of companies would basically fire everybody and rehire who they wanted.”
Not Zeon. “In this case they wanted the people, more than probably anything else. They did their utmost to make it a seamless transition, and they did a really nice job,” he recalls.
Barnhouse, after letting the company know he didn't want to relocate to Chicago, was transferred to Louisville, Ky., in a tech service position.
In 1998 after 30 years with BFG and Zeon, he left the supply side of the business and returned to manufacturing with the Aeroquip Corp. hose operations in Maumee, later bought by Eaton Corp.