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50 years and running: Auriga Polymers has led the way

August 25, 2018

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Tucked just off a section of Interstate 85 on Dewberry Road sits one of the polymer industry’s key research, development and production hubs.

From the interstate Auriga Polymers might look like just an unwieldy collection of pipes and towering metal stacks and structures.

In reality, it’s a near unique melding of talent from all over the world, combined with more than 50 years of investments in machinery and processes that have allowed it to become an organization that helps unlock solutions to big problems.

“I think the average person passing us out there has absolutely no idea what we do here everyday,” Mark Holden, Auriga Polymers vice president of operations, laughed during a recent sit-down with the Herald-Journal. “And that’s OK.”

For more than half-a-century, the company has been on the ground floor of the development process that’s led to products consumers the world over would likely recognize.

Across it’s 380-acre campus, the company churns out a dizzying array of polyester fibers — useful in things like filtration systems, medical packaging and military applications — to resins and specialty polymers that form the basis for things like bottles for carbonated soft drinks or juices.

Breaking it down

Today Auriga is owned by Indorama Ventures PLC, an international firm specializing in polyester resin and fiber. The company’s 85 sites stretch around the globe, but Indorama looks to its Spartanburg facility for its research and development needs, according to Director of Research and Development Conor Twomey.

Holden said the company’s current fortunes are tied, in large part, to its history.

“We’re in a kind of unique position, because if you were setting out from scratch you’d never build a facility exactly like this today,” Holden said.

It got off the ground in 1967, when the Hystron company made, at that time, the single largest investment in the history of Spartanburg County, according to Auriga.

The company began by producing polyester fiber and continued to add capacity and capability as it was acquired in later years by Hoechst Celanese, KOSA, Invista and finally in 2011, Indorama Ventures.

It employed upward of 3,000 people at its peak, Holden said, but acquisitions and advances in production technology have meant the company’s staff now sits at roughly 450.

Over 51 years of continuous operation, Auriga Polymers was able to start small and grow along the way, Holden said. That means its retained the ability to experiment with new formulations and processes in small batches, in addition to maintaining the ability to prove those ideas can work at production scale.

The Spartanburg site includes some 28 employees devoted to research and development. They’re assigned to tackle tough problems for Indorama and its customers. If everything falls into place, it’s the team that helps Indorama identify and land the big wins — things that would be termed “high value added ideas.”

“The assets, the people assembled in one place, structured in the way that it is — that just evolved over time,” Twomey said. “But doing R&D here, on site, means you’re always focused on innovation and development and puts you in a position to translate that knowledge as quickly as possible.”

It’s about discipline

For Twomey and company, true innovation doesn’t happen like it does in the movies, where a miraculous idea suddenly comes to a character like the flick of a switch. He described it as a discipline designed to find answers to real world problems for customers.

Distilled to its essence, Twomey said the company takes those ideas and puts them through a framework. He said the point is to speed up the learning process, find out what works, what doesn’t and what questions still need to be answered.

“Sometimes that means somebody’s project isn’t going to work, it’s not going to go to that next level,” Twomey said. “You’ve got to be clear-headed about that, because the point is to find out what’s viable as quickly as possible.”

Those ideas move through the system in an organized way, a process that has led to numerous big wins for Auriga, Indorama and company.

Most recently resins formulated in Spartanburg have been developed in partnership with both CKS Packaging and Coca-Cola to create a sturdy, clear 89-ounce Simply Beverages container that’s been won awards from multiple industry trade groups.

For the company’s Sustainable Platform Manager Sanjay Mehta, the goal boils down to ensuring the company’s materials and products are recyclable. That gives Auriga’s and Indorama’s customers a leg up over their competition, and helps the planet out to boot.

And even though Auriga Polymers doesn’t produce the end products its materials, resins and polymers end up in, Indorama and Auriga have invested in smaller scale versions of the equipment its customers rely on. The idea is to simulate, as closely as possible, production-level manufacturing conditions.

“The key thing is that we’re always learning, always incorporating feedback into what we do,” Holden said.

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Information from: Herald-Journal, http://www.goupstate.com/

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