Production team leader, DuPont.
Studied Chemical Engineering at Queen's.
What does your job entail?
As production team leader I am responsible for the production of Kevlar fibre at the DuPont plant at Maydown in Derry. My role includes ensuring that we consistently and safely manufacture quality product to meet our customers' needs and looking at ways we can improve our processes and practices. The DuPont plant at Maydown, with its 180-strong onsite staff, produces Kevlar fibre which combines high strength with light weight that helps to dramatically improve the performance of a variety of consumer and industrial products. Applications include ballistic vests and helmets, automotive hoses, brakes and gaskets, oil and gas industry and fibre optical cables.
How did you get into this line of work?
Jobs at DuPont were advertised in the 'milk round' in the final year of my PhD. I applied for other posts as well but this was the one I wanted.
Outline your career to date.
I started with DuPont in 1999 in the technical group and soon was responsible for new product development. In 2003 I spent a month at our sister plant in Richmond, Virginia assisting in the startup of a new manufacturing line which was a great experience. Then, in Maydown, I became quality and contract manufacturing leader with responsibility for the quality group activities including our ISO 9001 certification and the glove-testing laboratory we have onsite. The glove testing laboratory is independently accredited to test industrial protective gloves to a number of international standards. I also had responsibility for the contract manufacturing businesses that Kevlar uses in Europe. As well as the opportunity to travel widely, this role gave me a broader business picture and the opportunity to gain an understanding of the Kevlar value chain. In 2006 I moved into my current role of production team leader.
Tell us about your qualifications/training.
I have an MEng in Chemical Engineering and a PhD from the School of Chemical Engineering QUB. In 2003 I became a certified Six Sigma green belt. Last September I embarked on a part time MSc in Business Improvement, run by the University of Ulster.
Did you always want to work in your chosen sector?
Yes. My dad worked for DuPont and when still at school I was lucky enough to have a few visits onto the site. I was always fascinated by the size and scale of the plant, how much emphasis DuPont places on employee safety and the customer. To me it appeared that engineers were able to make this all happen. In third-year careers I found a description of a chemical engineer and thought "this is for me" and from then it was chemical engineering all the way.
What qualities are required for your position - personal and professional?
Probably the most important quality is the ability to talk and listen to people. In my job I spend more time interacting with others than anything else, so it is essential to have the ability to get on with people and work with them to get things done. DuPont is very aware of this and shortly after moving into my current role, I was given intensive leadership and personal development coaching with the Leadership Trust. This gave me insight into my personal leadership style and how it could positively impact on my role. Good troubleshooting skills are important, as is the ability to prioritise and delegate tasks. Also it is necessary to be fact and data focused and have analytical skills. Process knowledge is also essential.
What do you do, day-to-day?
Every day can be different but almost always starts with the morning meeting where we discuss the events of the previous shift and determine the key action items for the coming day. I could then be involved in anything from troubleshooting current issues, investigating problems with RCFA (root cause failure analysis), to production or six sigma program reviews. In the afternoons we have regular calls with our colleagues in our sister plant in Virginia, sharing experiences and best practices. In production you have to have an overview of all the functions so I work closely with the quality, technical, maintenance IT and purchasing teams, ensuring that we are working towards our common goal of safe, first-quality production.
Detail any recent projects that are reflective of your job and your industry.
This is an exciting time to work at the Kevlar plant as we have recently undergone major expansion adding both new plant and new personnel. Good change management was important in the training of our new recruits, in integrating the new facilities into the existing one, in proving out the product from the new assets and developing new practices. Last year we began our journey into lean manufacturing, the very simple yet powerful concept of waste elimination. We have since held a number of very successful Kaizen (improvement) events on the subject. The magic of these events is how, for the period of the event, so many people across the plant are focused on the project with no distractions. It is amazing what the teams have achieved and the speed at which the change has been implemented.
What makes working in your industry interesting and challenging?
It is interesting in that in a high technology industry we are constantly looking for improvements in our process and practices; challenging because no two problems are ever the same and you need to be able to think logically and use your analytical skills to solve issues - which is also interesting because you are constantly learning.
What career progression opportunities are available?
An engineer's career with DuPont generally starts with a rotation in a technical support role. After that, there are opportunities to branch out into other areas such as quality, supply chain, sales, marketing or to continue to pursue a technical career. This is backed up with regular structured career development discussions with your supervisor and can lead to opportunities to re-train or take courses in other areas, such as the MSc in Business Improvement I am now studying. A key plus is that we have all the advantages of working for a global company in terms of the breadth of opportunities available but in a local environment. In my eight years with DuPont I have had exposure to a number of functions, which has helped me determine the career path I wish to follow.
What kind of personality do you need to operate within your chosen industry?
The ability to remain calm and focused is important, as often you may have information coming from many directions and you need to be able to pick out the key information, make decisions and set direction. You also need to be able to interact well and communicate effectively with people.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
With a full-time job, a three-year-old son and studying for a MSc, spare time can be at a premium. However, it is really important to make time for the things I enjoy. Cooking is a passion for me, as is reading and I also love having dinner with friends. A good walk is also a great way for blasting away the cobwebs and cancelling out the effects of all the eating!
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
I worked as a pizza chef when studying and still can produce a pretty mean margherita.
Who has inspired you most in your life?
People who don't give up, who keep going when many others have long thrown in the towel. I firmly believe that anything is achievable and you are bounded only by your own beliefs. I am with Henry Ford when he said: "If you think you can or you think you can't, you're probably right".
Reprinted with permission from www.LoadzaJobs.co.uk
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