Hargrove Engineers photo
A $65 million expansion of Huntsman Corporation’s McIntosh, Ala., plant is under way in Washington County — a project that will have a direct impact on the aerospace and composite industries.
A $65 million expansion of Huntsman Corporation’s McIntosh, Ala., plant is under way in Washington County — a project that will have a direct impact on the aerospace and composite industries. In May 2013, Huntsman Advanced Materials and Hargrove Engineers + Constructors broke ground at the facility, which manufactures specialty epoxy resins.
“We were invited to the table on the engineering side and helped produce the plans,” said Clint Kennedy, construction manager of Hargrove Engineers + Constructors. “It started out from scratch on a piece of notebook paper and went from there. Huntsman’s project engineer and Hargrove’s project manager went through the plan gathering vendors, and because Huntsman had a lot of information as far as the equipment and the way it should be designed, they had a lot of input on how they wanted their system run.”
Hargrove is providing engineering, procurement and construction management services on the expansion, and will more than double the size of the existing plant. Hargrove established infrastructure early on, and had programs in place before contractors arrived on site in May 2013. Kennedy said safety has been a top priority.
During construction, Hargrove has kept as much of the siding intact as possible. Crews only cut holes where necessary to tie the new construction into the existing structure. This minimizes exposure to the plant and construction people. Siding will be placed on the outside of the building and crews will start removing the siding on the inside, so the building will be sealed, according to Kennedy.
“One of the main challenges is working next to and tying into a live unit that is producing, especially since their raw materials are on one side of the construction area and the processes are on the other side,” according to Kennedy. “They have to come under our construction efforts, as far as permitting. We have hot works on almost every elevation, and Huntsman has its process going, so we have to be very careful. We have a lot of coordination to ensure we’re as safe as possible. We have to take extra precautions, and part of leaving that wall up was to mitigate that. When we make our crane lifts, it affects a lot of people. We have to evacuate the lab, break room, team room, warehouse, etc., because a lot of that isn’t a barrier between us. The siding material isn’t going to protect against an 18,000 pound piece of steel coming through.”
“Anytime you are building on a greenfield environment, you have to give extra consideration for facility siting,” said Landis Alday, plant manager of Huntsman Advanced Materials, McIntosh Plant. “When Hargrove is actually constructing and trying to run the process, there’s occasionally some interference, so that’s an extra logistical issue that has to be managed. But I think we’ve evaluated all of those things and we’re making the right decisions to build and manage both the construction needs and our operational needs at the right time in the right way.”
Alday said the facility should be up and running, making certification batches by late next year. The biggest concern is having the facility ready to produce materials when they are needed.
Early work involved tearing down some existing loading docks, and working with another company to move a fence. A section of the site was used for staging materials. During the expansion, crews will add six floors to the existing building, using a 300-ton (272.1 t) crawler crane, a 60-ton (54.4 t) rough terrain crane, two fork lifts and an excavator, as well as man lifts and scissor lifts. Roughly 1,200 tons (1,088.6 t) of galvanized steel and approximately 8,000 ft. (2,438.4 m) of pipe will be needed to complete the project.
“There are times we have to shut down production for safety reasons,” said Kennedy. “We barricade most of the packaging and receiving area of the warehouse, and work with the shift supervisor to clear the area when making a lift. We are working five ten-hour days a week. Currently, there are around 40 to 45 people right now, but at the height of the project, we’re estimating around 150 people working at once.”
“We don’t have a lot of greenfield space to work with for staging areas, or extra space to place construction crews,” said Alday. “We’re nominally a 200-person site. Just the logistics of being able to manage that influx of additional people onsite for up to a year can be a challenge. We need to run our existing operations during construction. The product line we’re adding capacity to is fairly loaded, so it’s important we run our routine operations. We’ll have to take the whole facility down for some tie-ins and electrical work occasionally, but we’ll schedule those in and try to make them brief.”
“Technology evolves and is ever changing, but one of the things we’ve tried to do specifically is stay very true to what we do now, because these materials are aerospace certified,” said Alday. “It’s critical our customers understand exactly what we’re giving them, because they use them to produce parts for airplanes. The primary technical challenge is when we build something new, we replicate exactly what we are doing today in terms of the quality and functionality of the material. Once it’s produced, it performs exactly like it does on the line we have running today.”
Another challenge for the project is to fit equipment in the space due to the small footprint. In addition, workers are tying into the existing structure. Crews are working around the issues, and are three weeks ahead on steel erections. The most time consuming part of the job is expected to be the electrical and instrumentation portion of the project.
“With the existing MCCs, tying them into the new MCCs is a challenge to make sure that we identify every wire and make sure they are all off,” said Kennedy. “The drawings always differ from how things end up being in the real world.”
“Probably the two things that are going to take the longest amount of time on this project are the engineering design and preparation work,” said Alday. “Construction is critical and has to be done well, but that’s probably the cleanest portion of this project in terms of knowing exactly what you have to do, executing it and doing it. Because this is aerospace material, it has to go through an extensive certification process to be used as an exact replacement for the materials we are selling now. And that’s an extensive process that could take a year or more. That’s an internal and external process.”
“We will do our own testing to ensure that we are a 100 percent confident this material is an exact replacement for the materials we are currently making on our existing lines, and then we’ll provide that material to our customers,” said Alday. “They will go through their own testing processes and we’ll partner closely with them to make sure that’s all done well, and as timely as possible. Then we’ll move forward.”
The composite parts made with Huntsman’s specialty epoxy resins give high-performance industrial components greater impact resistance and result in overall reduced maintenance. For the aerospace, automotive and oil and gas industries, this can mean dramatic fuel and cost savings.
“Every pound on a plane — from passengers and luggage to airplane parts — contributes to fuel costs,” said Carl Holt, aerospace and composites marketing manager of Huntsman. “If you can reduce the weight of the airplane, you will reduce your fuel needs and lower operating costs.”
Huntsman Advanced Materials has invested significantly over the last year in the expansion of its capacity and capability to produce specialty epoxy resins in the United States and in Europe. The McIntosh investment will bring Huntsman’s total global capacity to 12,125.4 tons (11,000 t) upon completion of the project, expected in late 2014.
“These investments will bring enormous benefit and value to our customers around the world, helping them address some of the engineering challenges they face to produce lighter, more efficient materials,” said James Huntsman, president of advanced materials division. “We greatly appreciate the help and support we have received from the state of Alabama in helping to bring this project to life.”
Huntsman’s operating companies manufacture products for industries including chemical, construction, plastic, automotive, aviation, health care, detergent, furniture, appliances, personal care, footwear and packaging. The company has roughly 12,000 employees and operates from multiple locations worldwide. Headquartered in The Woodlands, Texas, the company reported revenues of more than $11 billion in 2012.
The Huntsman expansion project is expected to add approximately 25 full-time positions at the McIntosh plant, once it reaches full capacity.