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Operations and maintenance combine for high performance

Nov. 22, 2011
DuPont's Cooper River site reinvents itself with the help of proven maintenance practices.

The Cooper River site in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, has been a DuPont manufacturing operation since 1973. The site has reinvented itself over the years and currently has a Hytrel plant and a Kevlar plant. The Hytrel plant produces thermoplastic polyester elastomers for use in the automotive industry. The Kevlar plant produces Kevlar aramid fibers which offer a combination of flexibility, lightweight strength and heat resistance. It’s best known for its use in ballistics vests for police and military.

Construction of the Kevlar plant began in December 2007 and was completed in May 2011, at which time startup and commissioning activities began. The Hytrel plant employs about 60 people, of which 43 are operating technicians and the Kevlar plant employs about 140 people, of which 106 are operating technicians.

“DuPont has viewed the Cooper River site and this community as a great place to invest, particularly in terms of the $500 million investment in our Kevlar plant,” says Plant Manager Jerry Good. “The site has outstanding, high-performing employees and great support from community residents, as well as local and state-elected officials.”

The DuPont Kevlar plant consists of 11 buildings and was developed in an area that encompasses 38 acres. The Kevlar Manufacturing Building consists of 200,000 sq ft; the Kevlar Administration Building consists of 24,000 sq ft; and the Kevlar Powerhouse Building consists of 30,200 sq ft. The Hytrel process building, including all four floors, is approximately 300,000 sq ft, and the first floor is approximately 100,000 sq ft.

The plant utilizes a high-performance work system (HPWS), in which all employees are capable of performing all the functions within the facility. Operating technicians are qualified on common maintenance skills, demonstrating high capability in autonomous maintenance through the DuPont College of Maintenance framework. Examples include hoisting, line breaks, mechanical seal replacements and instrument troubleshooting. To support the startup, there were three supplemental contract mechanics per shift. The contract support is designed to transition to the site project crew as prove-out is completed.

Technicians Sean Sommers (left) and Anne Gonzalez use maintenance skills training to connect fittings to a hose for use in the DuPont Kevlar manufacturing process.

Cooper River Kevlar incorporated the DuET M&R Best Practices, DPS Business Maintenance and DuPont College of Maintenance procedures and policies as its base framework upon startup. In addition, Meridium Operator Rounds was implemented as part of a corporate pilot. The impetus for establishing this framework was that it ensures the facility will remain a safe workplace for its employees and ensures a reliable flow of quality product to the customer.

The Hytrel plant has continued to use the HPWS model regarding maintenance activities. Since the Kevlar plant is a new startup, the past two years have focused on technicians working there securing the knowledge base into core systems such as Domino.doc and SAP-PM, which was implemented per DSAP best practices. Beamex calibration software is used to manage calibration methods for field calibration. Meridium is used to consolidate traditional stand-alone database systems into one system of record. Operating readings, steam trap rounds, fire doors and pump checks all are managed through the SAP-PM/Meridium solution. Upbase is used for uptime tracking upstream of spinning, and Kevlar Shop Floor is used to track spinning uptime. The supporting systems were implemented upon startup of our Kevlar Powerhouse in 2010.

In today's maintenance and reliability (M&R), DuPont believes judicious application of IT serves as a competitive advantage. It provides assurance that PdM schedules are met and provides information expediently at the point of use. The Cooper River Kevlar plant has established an operating-technician competency for advanced computer skills to supplement the traditional approach. IT personnel focus on security, hardware reliability, software updates and data backups without having to learn the ins and outs of all systems. The operating technicians learn the detailed advanced features of the software including Meridium queries, rounds management and advanced SAP-PM functions. Those who qualify as key users of a system gain credit toward their progression. From a hardware standpoint, a dedicated maintenance and reliability server was established to house M&R applications such as Upbase, Meridium Reports and the Beamex Server application.

The DuPont plant’s predictive maintenance program employs a variety of technologies and tools. SAP-PM is used to index all assets within a functional location hierarchy. It manages the Mechanical Integrity PdM program. Merdium manages field rounds, such as operating field readings, steam traps, lubrication, safety showers, emergency lights, fire doors, breathing air stations and ladders. Meridium also provides means to create work orders in the field through a handheld device. Beamex-Instrument Calibrations are geared toward field calibrations. SAP-PM triggers the inspection and captures the history. The Beamex solution runs the auto-calibration methods. Emerson Process Management’s CSI RBMware is used for vibration analysis. Optalign is employed for pump alignments. The DuPont plant also uses ultrasonic for mechanical troubleshooting and gas leak detection, as well as infrared to find mechanical hot spots and conduct electrical inspections. The distributed control system (DCS) handles many readings including critical vibration applications. All the other readings are captured through a handheld device through Meridium. The Cooper River Kevlar plant has wireless networking throughout the facility, which Meridium uses to provide point-of-use documentation at the point of inspection of rounds.

Because the Cooper River DuPont Hytrel and Kevlar plants work under the HPWS, its employees are engaged and empowered to make decisions. Hourly employees in both plants plan and conduct monthly safety meetings, give safety training and lead incident investigations. When there is a safety concern, they help to resolve it.

To ensure the proficiency of fork truck operators, employees set up an obstacle course to aid operators in gaining experience on operating multiple types of fork trucks. DuPont is generating a variety of visual aids to communicate hazards and employee safe work practices. Examples of this are labeling process piping with contents and direction of flow, identifying areas where fork truck traffic is not permitted, signage of where additional personal protective equipment is needed, and marking areas where items are not to be stored.

The plant is involving all site employees in safety audits that include all shifts and cross-area audits. The facility has a leading-indicator program that’s a predictor of future safety. One key factor of the leading-indicator program is the forward energy assessment where data is collected on safe behavior, trust, recognition, external distractions, internal distractions, personal growth and development, and morale.

Technicians Sean Sommers (left) and Ed Young prepare DuPont Kevlar yarn for a quality test to ensure specifications are met.

The plant uses a point system that tells light status — red, yellow or green. Actions, such as a safety pause or safety communications, are taken when the light color is red or yellow. “Thanks to the various safety processes and procedures employed at Cooper River and a continued focus on and dedication toward working safely, the 200 employees at the site in June achieved five years without incurring a DuPont event-related injury,” explains Good. “Safety is a core value and the No. 1 priority in DuPont, with the goal being zero injuries and incidents. We believe all injuries are preventable and that’s what we strive toward.”

The Cooper River site uses a behavioral based hiring process that puts more emphasis on a candidate's aptitude and behavior than on specific skills. “For all new employee training, we have partnered with the local Trident One Stop Career System staff along with staff at readySC and Trident Technical College,” explains Good. The curriculum is comprehensive and includes courses, such as DuPont orientation, operator and maintenance technical training, business writing, computer use, communication and feedback, train the trainer, teamwork, giving and receiving feedback, and presentation and leadership skills.

The Cooper River site, including the Hytrel and Kevlar plants, employs the HPWS, in which all employees are capable of performing all operations and maintenance functions. “This model has proven to be very effective and successful in the Hytrel plant and was one of leading reasons the site was selected for the Kevlar plant,” says Good. Best practices are utilized across all DuPont sites. “We have implemented the use of variable speed drives on key pumping systems to reduce energy usage,” explains Good. “And we utilize a peer-to-peer air compressor control strategy to help keep to the most efficient number of compressors on-line.”

Because air flow management is so important, maintenance and redundancy figure into the equation for maintaining operations and limiting downtime at the Cooper River site. “The Cooper River Project performed reliability analysis based on sister plant history to determine redundant equipment application,” says Good. “In turn, most systems have mitigating steps that allow for continued operation when servicing is required for PM or repair. The critical few have appropriate on-site spares. In most cases, components are plug-and-play.”

PSM criticality is based upon the PSM Criticality Decision Tree supplied by the M&R Center of Competency. “For scheduling, since Cooper River Kevlar is built upon autonomous maintenance principles, traditional failures that would push to days and break schedule are simply repaired and noted in SAP-PM history,” says Good. “For example, leaks, faulty instruments, filter changes, oil filling, faulty traps and plugged lines are addressed by the process area technician on the shift to quickly regain safe operation. For redundant equipment, a priority of urgent — do within three days — is given to return to standby. For other situations that can be temporarily mitigated, the scheduled target is based on parts availability. For business-critical components, parts are on-site.”


The PM strategy is based on Key Date scheduling of SAP-PM. With this type of scheduling, the frequency of inspection is set to occur more frequently than required through safety and reliability analysis but will stay aligned with that key date if achieved within a tolerance. “This prevents schedule creep that results in unoptimized PM work load that prevents conflicts with future full turnaround schedules,” says Good. “This scheduling is similar to TLM scheduling. As long as the job is performed within the allotted month, it is compliant and the next date due will properly trigger against the original set key date. In turn, the Cooper River PM work load has been smoothed over two years allowing for the operating technicians to perform the bulk of the PM program tasks.”

The initial PM frequency was based on historical data for similar services. After the first round of PMs, the dates are adjusted if needed after receiving approval to do so through a controlled form.

Cooper River has a blend of vendor-managed, consignment and on-site stores. “A second-party contractor manages our on-site stores,” explains Good. “Materials are established in the SAP-PM GMRODB and associated with their application against SAP-PM equipment and functional locations. Safety Stock was determined based historical turns at our sister plants and industrial benchmarks for consumables. For redundant equipment, spares are indexed on BOMs, but only kept on-site if there is a long lead time.”

The Cooper River site began its Lean Six Sigma continuous improvement journey in 1999 when the site began training Six Sigma black belts and green belts to use the define/measure/analyze/improve/control (DMAIC) process to solve problems. Over the years, DMAIC projects led by site employees have improved DuPont's operating income by several millions of dollars per year.

In 2004, the site expanded beyond the Six Sigma methodology by also applying lean manufacturing principles such as supply chain mapping, Kaizen, 5S and visual management. At this time the focus of the improvements moved beyond the factory walls, and improvements were made along the entire supply chain. In addition to traditional improvements such as manufacturing cost reduction, the site also focused on reductions in inventory, warehousing costs and logistics costs.

In October 2010, the Cooper River site launched the DuPont Production System (DPS) as the next step in the continuous improvement journey. The DPS, which is being employed at both the Hytrel and Kevlar plants, is an integrated system designed to deploy best practices, develop people and organizational capability, and find creative new ways to utilize assets and eliminate waste. DPS has amplified the Lean Six Sigma efforts by increasing employee engagement and increasing visibility to best practices outside of DuPont.

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