Advanced Production Technology & New Ways of Working That Could Change the Game for Converters

Advanced Production Technology & New Ways of Working That Could Change the Game for Converters

Disruptive startups face challenges, but they also have the flexibility to support their customers more effectively with innovative systems and the latest production technology.

By Shell Polymers on Sep 25, 2020

As a new line of business within Shell Chemicals, we are leveraging the decades of experience within our team to build a greenfield polyethylene plant in Monaca, USA. But relying on internal expertise isn’t enough.

That’s why we’ve created tight feedback loops with plastics converters to discover what they need. Over the last five years we’ve spent more than 1,000 hours interviewing hundreds of industry experts and converters, so we have gotten to know the frustrations, challenges, and issues they often encounter.

According to Laura Chamorro, Shell Polymers’ Global Marketing Manager, these conversations uncovered priceless insights. “The interviews revealed so many opportunities to do things better in terms of how we should treat customers, shape our business processes, and open lines of communication,” she says.

“And, because we’re building the business from scratch, we have a special opportunity to respond to these challenges. We don’t need to adapt outdated systems or tools for a new way of doing business, we can build them from the ground up.”

One common thread throughout these dialogues was how necessary it is to have a reliable polymer supply. That’s why we’re implementing state-of-the-art digitalization technologies to ensure that, when we say we’ll deliver, we will.

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Chris Jackson, the Production Unit Logistics Manager who helped design the site’s logistical operations, says that this is particularly evident in the business’s logistics. “We’ve built in some really customer-focused functionality,” he says. “For example, in response to customer insights, we’ve made sure our systems can make real-time adjustments to shipments. Similarly, because customers told us they want quick access to information such as the location of their railcar, we’ve implemented an automated on-and-off-site inventory tracking system.”

By pairing these smart technology with a production team that has been trained in a virtual reality environment for hundreds of hours, customers have the security of knowing their supply chain is in capable hands

In addition to these logistics capabilities, we’ve also integrated smart inspection technology such as drones, crawlers, and connected equipment into our daily operations to improve plant uptime. Pairing these tools with a production team that has been trained in a virtual reality environment for hundreds of hours gives customers the security of knowing their supply chain is in capable hands.

Next-Level Technical Support

Another way our unrivaled customer focus manifests itself is in our 86,000-ft2 application hall, which will be adjacent to the plant and house state-of-the-art, industrial-sized film, injection molding, blow molding, and pipe conversion machines.

Dan Moldovan, Shell Polymers’ Technical Services Team Leader, explains, “The application hall enables companies to come and do development work, like creating a new multilayer structure, without shutting down their own production lines.”

“It’s also critical to our ability to provide ongoing customer support. For example, if a converter encounters issues at their plant, we can use our machines to investigate the film structure or the resins they’re running. Whether they need to be running at a different temperature or pressure, or something else, we can help determine the cause and evaluate solutions.”

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That’s because, in addition to equipment access, there’s another, equally important benefit for customers: access to expertise. The application hall will also be home to over 50 industry experts who will be available to work with customers leveraging their decades of technical PE expertise.

Dan Falla, one of the “Polymer Pioneers” who has over 30 years of experience in blown film, is looking forward to these collaborative, strategic relationships. 

“Imagine a plastic converter comes to us saying their customer, a major brand owner, is introducing a new product that must have a four-week shelf life and they need to evaluate the best structure for its packaging,” he says.

“Today’s multilayer lines provide so many options, but it will not be cost-effective for the company to stop production while they evaluate them all. So, their people can come to our plant, which is probably just a few hours from their home, and collaborate with our specialists to investigate the best way to meet their customer’s benchmarks.”

"Polymer Pros and Pioneers are committed to sharing the best practices and latest thinking that come from these organizations with customers to help them unlock competitive advantage"

Dan Falla, Senior Technical Service Engineer | Film

Dan adds that the Polymer Pioneers and Polymer Pros not only keep abreast of the latest developments, many are also at the forefront of the sector, delivering papers at conferences and holding leadership positions in the trade associations and certification bodies. “They’re committed to sharing the best practices and latest thinking that come from these organizations with customers to help them unlock competitive advantage,” he says.

Dedicated to An Unrivaled Customer Experience

Emma Lewis, Shell Polymers’ General Manager, concludes that the project is making good progress towards achieving her goal of delivering an unrivaled customer experience.

She says, “Converters can choose from a wide range of suppliers and our aim is for them to say, ‘I feel like Shell Polymers really cares about me and my business,’ or ‘Shell Polymers is just super easy for me to work with.’ From the innovative business processes that we’ve established and the state-of-the-art technologies that we’re using to ensure supply reliability, to the seasoned industry experts that we’ve hired — we’re really pushing the boundaries.”

“We set out to disrupt the industry and we’re on course to do that. It’s very exciting because that will deliver so much value for customers.” 

While the problems that converters face may vary from company to company, having access to new technologies and a reliable support team will help eliminate production roadblocks and promote operational success.

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