Eastman Chemical Co. has been operating in Kingsport, Tennessee, at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains, since 1921. About 7,000 or Eastman’s 14,000 employees work there at one of the largest chemical manufacturing sites in North America, which is also Eastman’s global headquarters.

Some of what’s top of mind at Eastman Kingsport was on display at the recent eChem Expo recently held in Kingsport’s Meadowview Convention Center.

Education tracks at the event, developed jointly by user planning committees and the show management, included for rapid execution, capital effectiveness, energy efficiency and sustainable development.

With about 150 solution providers present, it was an opportunity for Eastman personnel to view “the latest in innovative equipment,” said Cari Parker, an Eastman vice president of corporate technology, speaking during the event’s keynote session.

At the same time, while it can be said Eastman anchors the event, others were involved as well. Besides about 500 Eastman personnel, nearly 250 others, from more than 50 regional companies were present and accounted for.

Always new challenges

A new CEO joined Eastman in January and the company is said to be looking for growth opportunities. Its 2013 revenues were $9.4 billion and its employees work at a total of 45 manufacturing and other sites to produce coatings, additives, film and glass for a wide range of industries.

About two-thirds of the company’s current profits come from product markets in which it has a dominant position, Parker says. However, an emerging challenge is how quickly competitors are able to build plants that address market niches and opportunities.

Going forward, Eastman believes, keys to growth will include acquisitions coupled with productivity increase and cost-cutting efforts, while partnering with clients to efficiently develop new products and services.

Innovation is further driven, noted Bryan Suggs, an Eastman director of global procurement, “by emerging global technologies, such as for information technology, to drive change in more specialized markets.”

Another speaker, Ron K. Dailey, a director of engineering with Nuclear Fuel Services, said one such technology is 3D modeling and rapid prototyping. “The real challenge is how to get from product conception to a quality product or service,” he said.

Concurrent creation

Simulation, concurrent design and collaborative software applications will support effective coordination that reduces “white noise: the time between fixes; the time between when test results are available and when they are evaluated,” Dailey said.

How rapidly the U.S. industrial landscape is being transformed was pointed out by Steve Moore, a vice president with automation vendor Emerson Process Management. “Contractors are trying to upgrade but they are going to be full up. Resources are already scarce.  The procurement function will need to take hold sooner in the concurrent design process.”

He added that two important technologies going forward would be sensor proliferation and wireless.

In conclusion, it must be noted that as far as Eastman “top of mind” goes, almost every presentation and forum discussion was prefaced by words on safety, as well as it being a topic of discussion in itself.

The next e-C hem Expo will be in the spring of 2016.