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Now in his 30th year with DuPont, Bill Weber is overseeing startup of the company’s newest production facility at the Cooper River site in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. This $500 million plant will produce 25% of the company’s Kevlar portfolio, the largest product line in its Protection Technologies business, of which Weber is vice president, North America.
Although his group is just one of 14 autonomous businesses within DuPont, Weber understands the importance of Kevlar production, as the 40-year-old product line accounts for almost $3 billion in revenue worldwide, with half of that coming from North America.
“Cooper River is the single largest investment in Kevlar since the fiber was introduced,” explains Weber, who spoke with Plant Services about maintenance and reliability in a new facility with global resources. “Kevlar has the strength of steel, but is much lighter. It can be part of a blended fabric or used in other rigid structures or other durable goods, such as automotive hoses, structural aspects of airplanes and fiberoptic cables.”
DuPont was founded in 1802 as a gunpowder company, so it has 209 years of experience with high-hazard production, says Weber, but the product portfolio has changed over the years. “You only get to be that old by re-creating yourself,” he explains. “We want to be around for at least another century.” The $34 billion company constructs its own global portfolio based on the megatrends it sees. “These are the most important problems that need to be solved,” he says. “Feed more people. Use less oil. And protect more people. The Kevlar product addresses two of those three.”
PS: DuPont's extraordinary number of products means an extraordinary number of physical assets to produce them. How do you manage the maintenance and reliability of so many varied physical assets across North America, not to mention globally?
BW: We have a wide variety of physical assets. Many of them are high hazard. We understand hazards and come up with the right designs and procedures to try to make sure we address them after doing the right kind of process hazard analysis. To build, operate and maintain, those are global functional capabilities. Whether it’s project engineering or predictive maintenance, there’s a level of functional training to ensure we’re leading-edge.
We also have a small percentage of the total workforce in our Global Competency Center who might be deployed in those functions. We want to ensure we’re standardizing across best practices. The majority of the work that gets done will be done at the given plant site. Fewer than 10% of our worldwide employees will look globally across the many assets we have across the world.
PS: How often do you use contracted MRO services for maintenance and reliability, and what is DuPont's strategy for maintenance as a core competency of the organization?
BW: With a company our size, this issue is not a light switch. It’s more of a dimmer switch. It starts with trying to understand the degree of importance and uniqueness of the given skill set for that maintenance activity. Predictive maintenance involves sophisticated, next-generation tools to do it, so our Global Competency Center scans for those advances. We can deploy for all sites from our core group. If it becomes so standardized that it’s easy to contract on a variable basis, we will consider outsourcing it. If it’s something that requires a special skill, we’ll bring it in-house. Our global headquarters is in Wilmington, Delaware. We have parallel centers in each region of the world. There will be similar groups that act as hubs in other geographic areas. For example, there are high hazards in the area of metallurgy. We’ll have a core group of those specialists helping in preventive maintenance and in troubleshooting. The Global Competency Center isn’t a physical building. It’s more of a human network.
PS: DuPont's new Cooper River plant in South Carolina promises to bring more than 400 new jobs to the region. What types of maintenance, operations and engineering jobs are included, and how is DuPont recruiting and hiring individuals with the necessary skills to fill those positions?
BW: The Cooper River plant employed more than 400 contractors to build the plant and is adding more than 100 full-time jobs in the actual plant. A key part of the hiring is using very progressive approaches to be sure we brought people into that operation who are able to realize what we call a high-performance work system. It makes it very virtual, with self-directed teams, and it includes planning and execution of maintenance and operations. We want them to get away from fragmented responsibilities and into flexible work practices, so they’re able to handle as many of the skill sets that are needed as possible.