Meet the Engineer: Kelby Thayer

Kelby Thayer has been a Senior Project Engineer and Quality Coordinator at Smithers Pira’s distribution testing lab in Lansing, Michigan, since 2011.

What keeps you busy every day?

I manage testing projects for our clients and maintain the laboratory’s quality systems and accreditation programs. I also work with organizations such as ISTA and ASTM regarding distribution and integrity testing protocols and standards

What kinds of clients do you have?

Because packaging encompasses such a wide range of product types, our client base is extremely diverse. We work with automotive, locomotive, pharmaceutical, medical device, consumer goods, and electronic manufacturers, just to name a few. We’ve seen some more unusual things, too. We once ran some testing on nuclear fuel casks.

How does the work you do support your clients?

We help our clients understand what they can expect from a package and product during distribution. Sometimes this means leveraging existing test standards, which we’re very familiar with. Sometimes it means developing more focused testing protocols when unique issues, questions, or distribution environments are encountered. We also conduct root cause analysis projects to help solve existing problems.

What kind of positive changes and developments have your clients experienced after working with Smithers Pira?

I think a lot of our clients are surprised that investing in testing services can help them save money in the long run. We have helped many clients cut costs by optimizing their packaging and product in such a way that significantly reduces the amount of packaging material they need and the likelihood of damaged product. Our technical director, Mike Kuebler, is presenting a specific case study about this in an upcoming webinar. We’ve also assumed the detective role to help clients track down the root cause of ongoing problems that have them stumped. Sometimes the solution is a quick fix and other times it’s more complicated, but we can save our clients a lot of time and headache by helping them eliminate the mystery.

What trends and changes are you seeing in the work you do?

The shift to e-commerce is having a ripple effect. ISTA has developed specific package testing protocols that predict the performance of items as they travel through the Amazon distribution system and supply chain toward their final destination, the hands of the customer. We’re definitely seeing increased demand for that type of testing in our lab.

What advice would you give a new client to help them conduct a successful testing program?

Two things immediately come to mind:

  1. It’s best to approach testing as a learning experience rather than a quick check-the-box activity, because you never know whether you’ll encounter an unexpected problem. A testing failure is not necessarily a bad thing, either. It’s better to uncover issues in a testing laboratory so you can address them before they cause problems in the field.
  2. Let us help! Tell us what questions you’re looking to answer and what your acceptance criteria is, and we’ll recommend the most efficient and cost-effective testing protocol for your needs. My colleagues and I have seen just about everything, and we want you to succeed.

What do you like best about your job?

It’s really cool to see how the results of lab testing can help predict how a package will behave in the field, and I like turning this data into the answers our clients need to make informed, confident decisions. Plus we have a great team here at our lab in Lansing, full of people who are fun to work with.

Speaking of fun, what do you like to do for fun outside of work?

I’m a runner and a gym rat! I love spending time with my two sons. One is obsessed with drawing and comics, and the other is constantly taking things apart to figure out how they work. Perhaps a future engineer?

If you’d like to work with Kelby and the distribution testing team, get in touch at (517) 322-2400 or kthayer@smithers.com.