NEWARK, Del.—DuPont's Kalrez operation keeps growing, and now the company is investing to keep up with that growth.
The firm will relocate production from its 60,000-sq.-ft. site in Newark to a nearby site that's twice the size, earmarking $45 million for the transition and new equipment. The new plant will be outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment and advanced manufacturing capabilities.
The site employs 200, with employment increasing by about 10 percent in the last three years. DuPont projects another 10 percent increase during the transition project.
"We've had really strong growth in the last 10 years, but even more so in the last three or four years," said Randy Stone, president of DuPont Transportation and Advanced Polymers, a business unit of DowDuPont's Specialty Products division, which is now named DuPont and eventually will be separated into an independent, publicly traded company.
"It's been a mid-teens type of growth rate on the revenue side. We continue to grow this product line, it's one of the fastest growing product lines in all of the portfolio. We got to the point where we could see that we're running out of space in our existing site in Delaware. We've done as much re-designing as we can to the existing site and really need a larger footprint to be able to grow."
The new site will allow Kalrez-branded perfluoroelastomer parts to expand in-line with DuPont's projected business growth, better serving customers in the semiconductor, electronics and industrial markets. Stone said these materials were developed late in the 1960s, then in the early 1970s the firm released its Kalrez-branded sealing products to the market. The product line mainly consists of O-rings and bonded door seals.
They initially went into mechanical seals, but have since expanded into a lot of different markets, mainly electronics. Stone said Kalrez is sold as a finished sealing product. The Kalrez compound has very high temperature resistance, about 327°C. They're also resistant to about 1,800 different chemicals.
Stone said the firm has more than 38,000 parts within the Kalrez product line, most of them customized to specific applications.
"Kalrez is very commonly used where you absolutely have to make sure the equipment doesn't shut down because of an O-ring failure," he said. "It helps extend the mean time between repair in some of these applications in mechanical seals or semiconductors. Its temperature resistance is so high, its chemical resistance is so broad and we also customize these products. We're adding a lot of different products all the time."
Overall, the unit has a big presence in automotive, but not with its Kalrez product line. While Kalrez has some automotive applications with a few transmission seal rings, Stone said the main applications are in electronics and general industry for mechanical seals.
"There's a lot of different types of O-rings, but nothing that has this type of temperature performance and this type of chemical resistance," Stone said. "It's pretty unique. There's not a lot of people out there making this kind of product."
DuPont will use this opportunity to enhance its manufacturing efficiency. Stone said the firm will spend the next 18-24 months preparing the site, which is currently in progress, and transitioning into the new building.
"It's a clean canvas," Stone said. "There's a lot of stuff that we want to do to explore in terms of robotics, automation and machine learning.
"My expectation is that we will be working with outside vendors and partnering to put in a state-of-the-art facility. This is the first new manufacturing plant for Kalrez that we've built in a long time, so we'll look within the industry and partner with people to put in state-of-the-art capabilities. It's one of the most exciting things about the new investment."
DuPont decided to remain in Delaware for a variety of reasons, but primarily because Stone said it already had a strong infrastructure in place built up from four decades of doing business there. He cited the facility's strong work force, deep subject matter expertise, experience and a great partnership with local Delaware authorities.
"Staying there and not going through a big transition where we shut down a plant and move to a different location was really important to maintain the continuity with our work force and the customer base," Stone said.