Spartanburg Plant Marks 50 Years of ManufacturingNovember 21, 2017
Spartanburg’s Auriga Polymers, Inc. celebrates business longevity
A Spartanburg advanced materials manufacturer that began its production 50 years ago this month welcomed retirees back to its facility earlier this year for a “Walk Down Memory Lane” commemorating the plant’s 50th anniversary.
The plant, today known as Auriga Polymers Inc., opened in 1966 as a fiber plant named Hystron and manufacturing in 2017. Auriga Polymers is a wholly owned subsidiary of Indorama Ventures Public Company Limited. Indorama Ventures is one of the world’s leading petrochemical producers and a leading global manufacturer of wool yarns and polymers. Current information on Indorama Ventures can be found at www.indoramaventures.com.
Upon arrival, the visitors were greeted in the original textile production area of the campus, walls lined with newspapers announcing the company’s history and various name changes – Hoechst to Hoechst Celanese to KoSa to INVISTA to Auriga Polymers, Inc. – as well as current company information and today’s products on display at the celebration.
They were also greeted by a familiar face: that of Ronnie Wright, a 50-year facility veteran and the company’s longest-serving employee.
“Everybody seemed to really enjoy it,” Wright says. “They all thought I was crazy because I’m still here.”
Wright estimates he’s held about 15 positions in his tenure with the company, and he attributes his longevity to the company’s tendency to adapt to market changes.
Like Wright, adaptability has been a key to success for Auriga Polymers, enabling the company to pivot its business focus in response to the market, says Mark Holden, the company’s vice president of operations.
The petrochemical company, Indorama Ventures acquired the facility in 2011 and has committed to invest more than $100 million since. Today, the company has 450 direct employees, plus an additional stable of contractors who report there for duty.
“It really encompasses the whole region, between Spartanburg, Cherokee, Union, Greenville, Anderson, and North Carolina,” Holden says while showing a map of where Auriga Polymer employees live.
As the domestic textile industry declined in the 1980’s and 90’s, many of the company’s customers closed down. Even as the demand for fiber products decreased, the flexibility of the company’s assets and versatility of polyester resins enabled Auriga to enter new, emerging markets.
“We had already started producing differentiated products and bottle resin for the soft drink industry,” Holden explains. “Bottle resin was our bridge from textiles to plastics. It helped keep the plant running and got us to where we are now.”
Auriga Polymers still supplies bottle resins to that key customer, but the bulk of its business today is tied to advanced materials.
The company purchases its materials from 756 worldwide vendors– to produce high-performing, advanced materials for more than 200 worldwide customers.
Materials produced there include polyester chips and bottle resins used in food and medical packaging. The facility’s R&D team, approximately 25 engineers and technicians, work to innovate, test and enhance their materials.
“We were listening to our customers and what they needed,” Holden explains.
Technologies generated at the facility include extrusion blow molding, technology that enables production of plastic materials strong enough to sustain heavy weights – think, a drink carton where liquid lives in the handle – that are still fully recyclable.
Another development that came from the plant is Crystal Clear Oxygen Barrier Resin, OxyClear® – a barrier technology that prevents oxygen from permeating through plastic packaging, lengthening the shelf life of consumer products.
The company has its sights set on future innovation. Just recently Indorama Ventures committed to invest more than $35 million to expand existing operations. This investment included the installation of an extruder system and other product improvements. With this new expansion, Auriga Polymers will be able to produce fibers based on environmentally-friendly polymers such as PLA as well as specialty polyester and post-consumer recycled polymers.
“We’re committed to operating the facility in a safe, compliant way, respecting the environment with our neighbors and stakeholders,” Holden says. “And we plan to be here another 50 years.”
Employee Spotlight: Ronnie Wright, Raw Materials Coordinator
Company: Auriga Polymers, Inc. in Spartanburg County
Years of Service with your company?: 50
“Before I came over here, I was a locksmith and ran a business … I had a friend who worked at the Hercules plant and convinced me I needed to work for them, so I came over and took the tests and was hired.
Through the years, I’ve taken onsite courses taught by what is now Spartanburg Community College and seized different trainings the company has offered onsite.
Fortunately, I loaded up on math when I was in school because I was planning to go to Georgia Tech to be a mechanical engineer, but I started working at that locksmith place part time while I was in high school, and a couple years after I graduated I was making a lot of money.”
Tell me some about the work that you do:
“I take care of ordering the minor and intermediate raw materials and take care of the inventory and purchase specifications for polymer raw materials.
I keep a spreadsheet with equations that tell me what and when to order based on lead times and what we’re consuming. I complete purchase orders, watch the inventory, and keep the purchase specs current when companies have changes in ownership or specifications. There are a lot of companies buying other companies.
It’s a computer based job that also requires a lot of communications with suppliers who are global. We have at least 44 supplier companies who are providing at least 50 products.”
What are the skills most important to your job?: “Communications, computer programming.”
What is your favorite thing about your job?: “I guess it’s the change. There’s been a lot of change through the years. … I was here when they started the quality assurance program, and I was asked by the plant personnel guy to help check on standard operating procedures. Then I started getting into the specifications, and then started actually ordering raw materials. As people left, I inherited a lot of theirs – so I order a lot of stuff.”
A child tells you they want to follow in your footsteps when they grow up. What advice do you give them?: “Follow their instructions, do what you’re told to do.”
Is your company engaged in the community? If so, please share some information about its involvement and how you’ve participated.
Mark Holden: “The impact of our facility is huge. We have 450 people directly employed on our site, and hundreds more once you count contractors. Community engagement is a big part of what we do, and we try to make it fun. This year, our employees donated more than $74,000 to the United Way, and we also support the March of Dimes through financial support and a local soup kitchen through volunteering.
We have an internal challenge between our departments to collect canned foods at the holidays; the area that donates the largest number of cans will receive a ‘Big Heart’ award.
We are proud of what the company and our employees do for the community so we are truly proud of our past but excited for our future.”
TOPICS: Celebrations, Existing Industry, Manufacturing, Materials