By 2020, Braskem will have finalized its third production facility in La Porte, Texas, with the start-up of its Delta project. Delta will be the largest polypropylene (PP) facility in the Americas upon completion, with a production capacity of 450 kilotons (kt) per year, the equivalent of approximately 1 billion pounds. Delta will increase Braskem’s production capacity of homopolymers, random copolymers, impact copolymers and reactor thermoplastic polyolefins, building upon the current polypropylene production plant in La Porte. Braskem will commit a total of approximately $675 million in investment capital toward the design and construction of the new facility, employing approximately 1,000 development and construction workers in the process.

Overseeing the project is Chris Bland, Braskem’s vice president of strategic projects in the U.S. He joined the Delta project in February 2016, but has been with Braskem for more than 10 years.

Braskem’s Delta will fill an important market need and marks a major milestone in domestic plastics production, as no new PP plants have been built in the U.S. since 2005, making the U.S. a net importer of PP. Engineering for Delta began in early 2017, with construction starting by that October. Underground and foundation work for the facility have been completed, and the team recently transitioned to mechanical work. This involved hanging the structural steel, setting main equipment and prefabricating piping.

Following this portion of work, the pipes will be set in place, with most of the work in 2019 consisting of the completion of piping and work on electrical and instrumentation. Bland said the plant’s final phase of main construction is targeted for the first quarter of 2020.

The Delta facility is being constructed in line with Braskem’s company commitment to sustainability and, with the design of new equipment, will be the lowest consumer of both water and energy in the industry. Bland said the facility is also paying heavy attention to its emissions and environmental and community footprints.

“I moved up in roles through Braskem, from a starting point of a regional HSE manager, to production management, to manufacturing manager, to vice president of manufacturing, procurement, engineering and capital projects — and now I’m working on this new build we’re completing in La Porte,” Bland said.

Before joining Braskem, Bland was a chemical engineering graduate of North Carolina State University. After graduation, he pursued environmental engineering at Milliken & Co., where he was eventually promoted to HSE manager. Bland also worked at Equistar Chemicals LP and Sunoco Chemicals, which Braskem bought in 2010. While at Equistar, Bland transitioned to managing people and plant performance.

Meeting challenges

Bland said a project manager faces many challenges along the way, particularly when planning a new build.

“It’s not just understanding the specific role of building a plant; it’s understanding the business,” Bland said. He added the manager must be able to sit at the business level for the staff on-site, interact with commercial and R&D leaders, and understand what’s critical to the business and how the plant plays a role in helping that business succeed.

“Not only do you need to build a plant, but you need to build a plant that’s building the right products with the right capabilities, thinking about what the market of the future looks like, thinking about what different opportunities the company may want to pursue, thinking about how it interacts with the other operating plants at the site, what you want the site complex to look like, thinking about the people, where you’re going to hire, how you’re going to move people around in the organization with this, how you’re going to resource the project — all those types of things,” he explained.

Bland said people management also plays a large role in terms of where to draw project resources, where workers will end up when they’re done with the project, how to motivate them, and how to focus them on their specific roles and performing them with excellence.

When starting a plant project like Delta, one of the first hurdles to cross is being a salesperson inside your own organization and driving the idea for funding, he said. After that, there is a lot of project management.

“It’s being able to deal with things as they come up,” he said. “Every project has things that go really well and things that don’t go well. The things that don’t go well — you’ve got to be able to see them early and react to them. You’ve got to be able to manage them so they don’t cause undue delay in the project. It’s reacting and then looking for ways to mitigate problems as they come along. No matter how well you plan, you need to be ready to adapt to the unexpected.”

Crediting experience from his previous jobs, Bland said one trait that has helped him learn to manage the Delta project build and plan for obstacles is organization — not just physical organization, but the mental organization necessary for planning both short and long-term.

“It’s really longer-term planning: ‘Where do we want the project to be in a year-and-a-half? What are the intermediate steps I need to do along the way to get there?’” Bland explained. “And you do that a lot in project management. You look and say, ‘Start-up is this date; let’s start working backward for all the things that have to happen to get us to that startup date.’ It’s really thinking about all the ‘what ifs’ and what can come up along the way. Are you thinking about those things and doing some forward planning for those?”

Giving back

Since 2010, Braskem has, as a whole, supported over 130 organizations and donated more than $4 million in the U.S. During that time, the company donated $1 million to the United Way; over $100,000 to the March of Dimes; and $500,000 to the Bridge Educational Foundation, a nonprofit that provides schooling scholarships for low-income Pennsylvania families.

“As a company, we focus a lot of emphasis on science and technology education (STEM) and also diversity and inclusion, how we can educate people, how we can continue to encourage growth of young folks getting into those areas and pursuing careers,” Bland explained.

Bland added individual Braskem facilities focus on more localized volunteer opportunities, such as cleanup after last year’s Hurricane Harvey or trash pickup.

With the build of the Delta facility, Bland explained the local economy and chemical industry will benefit. Delta will utilize materials already locally produced by companies and, in turn, produce new products that can be used for a variety of professional fields and in day-to-day life. This helps grow the economy and American-made products.

“Right now, the polypropylene industry is relying on imports from outside the U.S. to be able to fulfill demand inside the U.S.,” Bland said. “We’re going to be able to come on line and fill some of that internally and lead to continued growth in the polypropylene industry, which I think in general will help plastics inside the U.S. looking to new areas and continue to grow the polypropylene industry inside the U.S.”

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