Interview with Ted Merriman, 2015 December 4

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  • Introduction, early life, background, education, and coming to work at DuPont
    Partial Transcript: "I went to the University of Michigan for an undergraduate degree in metallurgical engineering, then I worked for DuPont for a couple of years..."
    Synopsis: Merriman talks about his background and education. He talks about his history of working with DuPont in nuclear engineering and then returning to graduate school and coming to work at DuPont's Experimental Station in Wilmington, Delaware.
    Keywords: DuPont; DuPont Experimental Station; engineering; Kevlar; Michigan; Nuclear power; PRD 29; Savannah River Plant; University of Illinois; University of Michigan; Wilmington, Delaware
  • Memories of working at DuPont's Savannah River plant
    Partial Transcript: "Savannah River was interesting... it was the Deep South...once I learned to understand the language it was very interesting, but very difficult to do any kinds of experiments there... because you're buying reactor time..."
    Synopsis: Merriman talks about his work in nuclear engineering at DuPont's Savannah River Plant. He details his experiments in creating and packing different kinds of nuclear fuels. He says that he had to teach himself about nuclear materials and power for his job.
    Keywords: DuPont; fuel rods; nuclear fuels; nuclear power; nuclear reactions; nuclear reactors; plutonium; Savannah River Plant; uranium
  • Non work activities in the South and returning to grad school
    Partial Transcript: "I learned to go to the turkey shoots... to eat fried catfish with the head on... started a family so, it was fun." "I always figure on working a little between undergraduate and graduate school..."
    Synopsis: Merriman discusses his non work activities in the South. He talks about his motivations to return to graduate school and describes his program of study. He explains some of the core concepts of superplasticity, his work in developing metals that can stretch "like taffy" at super high heats.
    Keywords: carpooling; graduate school; metal physics; North Augusta, South Carolina; Savannah River Plant; superplasticity; University of Illinois
  • Joining the textile fibers department at DuPont
    Partial Transcript: "Carbon and silicon carbide were coming along, but they hadn't come to their commercial viability..." "Kevlar stepped into that in aircraft... because it saved weight... it was replacing either aluminium and fiberglass."
    Synopsis: Merriman talks about joining the textile fibers division at DuPont's research labs. He describes some of the varying materials that he worked with there including ceramics and aluminium oxide. He says that DuPont was interested in working with anything that they could spin into a fiber. He briefly talks about some of the uses for these materials and DuPont's early attempts at finding a market for them.
    Keywords: aluminium oxide; carbon; DuPont; fibers; Kevlar; Pioneer Research Lab
  • Joining the Kevlar team
    Partial Transcript: "As a combination with the PRD 29 ceramic fiber to begin with... they were just building the Kevlar production facility... down in Richmond."
    Synopsis: Merriman explains how he joined the Kevlar team. He talks about the development of markets for Kevlar, especially in the aerospace and sporting goods industries. He talks about a polyester foam project he worked on that ultimately failed. He talks about his experiments in foam and foam fiber and some of the products that he helped develop.
    Keywords: aerospace industry; ballistics; Du Pont; Freon; Kevlar; Numacell; polyethylene; polyurethane; PRD 29; Richmond, Virginia; sporting goods; Tyvek
  • Kevlar in car break lines and as a replacement product for asbestos
    Partial Transcript: "Well, you need it to stop the car..." "There are a dozen materials that are added..."
    Synopsis: Merriman explains how car break lines work. He describes the materials used in them and explains why and how Kevlar was useful in the process. He talks about this in light of 1970s legislation which banned the use of asbestos and required manufacturers to change how they made many of their products. He also talks about how Kevlar replaced asbestos in other products too.
    Keywords: asbestos; automobiles; break pads; breaks; Kevlar; Richard Blomberg
  • DuPont's experimental paper mill
    Partial Transcript: "Yes, there was a research-still is- a research paper mill down in Savannah..."
    Synopsis: Merriman talks about a paper mill that DuPont used in the experimental development of fibers including Nomex and Kevlar. He describes the experiments that he conducted using the paper making equipment available at the mill. He says that while the mill was a research facility, they used it as a production facility for a while before switching factories.
    Keywords: asbestos; Boston, Massachusetts; development; Kevlar; Nomex; research; Savannah, Georgia; Tyvek
  • Project management at DuPont
    Partial Transcript: "Well, initially it was a one man band kind of thing..." "My line of responsibility was technical..."
    Synopsis: Merriman talks about project management at DuPont. He says that there wasn't really a manager on the product side. He talks about the influence of technical managers and how they defended his projects. He says that his job at the time was to figure out how to use Kevlar to replace asbestos in any project, not just brakes.
    Keywords: asbestos; development; Kevlar; management; marketing
  • Measuring Kevlar fibers in the air
    Partial Transcript: "A lot of those places we would go into and put air monitoring devices on the workers..." "It tends to be its own filter... while you may see a lot of dust, very little of it is Kevlar..."
    Synopsis: Merriman continues his discussion of Kevlar in the brake manufacturing process. He details how DuPont measured the amount of Kevlar fibers inhaled by factory workers. He says that Kevlar is non-toxic and that it serves as its own filter, meaning that not very many Kevlar particles are in the dust at a factory. He says that good air handling practices will keep Kevlar particles low. He says that their goal was to make Kevlar safe to work with and to make sure it would not be a health hazard like asbestos.
    Keywords: air; asbestos; brakes; breathing; hazards; Kevlar; manufacturing
  • Later career in the Kevlar and Nomex divisions
    Partial Transcript: "I was always looking for the end uses of...Kevlar pulp..." "I was half working for Nomex and half working for Kevlar in the health safety and environmental area..."
    Synopsis: Merriman talks about the rest of his career at DuPont. He says that his time was spent between Kevlar and Nomex, developing new uses for Kevlar pulp and Nomex. He talks about creating combined Kevlar and Nomex materials. He talks about how a large portion of his career was spent traveling to factories around the world and teaching factory operators how to safely handle Kevlar and Nomex. In addition to teaching factory operators about health and safety Merriman taught them how to properly mix Kevlar and Nomex fibers.
    Keywords: China; end use research; health and safety' hazards; Japan; Kevlar; Kevlar pulp; Nomex; Thailand
  • Processing Nomex
    Partial Transcript: "Well, Nomex, while it has crystal orientation it doesn't peel into fibrils the way Kevlar does..."
    Synopsis: Merriman talks about how DuPont processes Nomex and Kevlar paper. He focuses on the manufacture of Nomex paper and explains the uses of Nomex paper. He says that Nomex paper is made and cut like wood pulp paper. He explains that Kevlar cutting is more difficult to do, then describes the process. He talks about how cutting the fibers into short lengths made what was a waste material into a usable material.
    Keywords: Kevlar; Kevlar paper; materials processing; Nomex; Nomex paper; Nomex pulp
  • Kevlar fiber and pulps and newer fibers
    Partial Transcript: "The thing that came out of that is now whenever anybody is thinking about a fiber, they think about a pulp..." "Is there enough of a prospect that this will be used as a pulp that we need to... assure ourselves that its a safe product..."
    Synopsis: Merriman talks about the future of fiber industries and how Kevlar set a precedent of using fibers in pulp form as well. He talks about attempts to replace Kevlar fiber as a material by some of companies that he worked with due to cost. He says that despite facing these objections on a regular basis he enjoyed his work selling Kevlar.
    Keywords: fibers; Kevlar; Kevlar pulp; pulps
  • Challenges selling Kevlar
    Partial Transcript: "From time to time there would be resistance because of the price, they'd see price per pound and it would be atrocious compared with all the other materials they were buying per pound."
    Synopsis: Merriman talks about some of the challenges of selling Kevlar. He says that potential customers often balked at the price per pound. He says that the low compressive strength of Kevlar made it a hard sell to the aircraft and aerospace industries, but that changed when they learned how to combine it with other materials.
    Keywords: aerospace industry; aircraft industry; Barium Sulfate; costs; graphite; Kevlar; sales
  • The Spruance Facility
    Partial Transcript: "Spruance was always the manufacturing sight for Kevlar, but it took quite a while for it to become the manufacturing site for Kevlar pulp."
    Synopsis: Merriman explains how the Spruance plant in Richmond, Virginia became the production site for Kevlar, Kevlar pulp, and Nomex. He talks about how the Spruance plant became DuPont's site for fiber research, development, and sales. He says that having labs and manufacturing on the same site make research and development especially easy. He briefly talks about the history of the Spruance facility, which was first built in 1929. He talks about the location of the Spruance plant in the city of Richmond, Virginia.
    Keywords: Kevlar; Kevlar pulp; Nomex; polyester; Rayon; Richmond, Virginia; Spruance Plant; Teflon; Tyvek
  • DuPont work culture
    Partial Transcript: "I have three degrees in metallurgical engineering and I think I practiced metallurgical engineering for about twenty minutes or so."
    Synopsis: Merriman talks about the work culture at DuPont. He explains what he meant earlier when he said that everyone was a generalist. He says that if someone was determined to be a specialist they could, but the natural evolution of jobs at DuPont, combined with personal curiosity lead to generalization. He says that generalization helped him on the job and that he enjoyed it.
    Keywords: Central Research; DuPont; generalization; Pioneering Research; specialization; work culture
  • Changes to DuPont's business and research interests
    Partial Transcript: "I think if you were into a more theoretical area that didn't have an immediate market use... you were more likely to have trouble justifying your job."
    Synopsis: Merriman talks about change over time to DuPont's business and research goals. He says that overtime DuPont, and many other companies switched from having an open approach toward research and development to being more focused on what could be sold. He characterizes his time there as the golden age of research and development at DuPont.
    Keywords: DuPont; fundamental research; marketing; research
  • Dupont's experiments in metallurgy and other types of materials
    Partial Transcript: "When I was thinking of becoming a graduate metallurgist I had in mind going to the Baltimore Metal Center."
    Synopsis: Merriman briefly discusses some of the metals businesses at DuPont and elsewhere with a focus on making and selling titanium dioxide. He discusses marketing products when your own are virtually identical to the your competitor's products. He talks about how DuPont paid for some of the advertising costs of their customers in order to promote materials that they developed.
    Keywords: advertising; Baltimore Metal Center; Baltimore, Maryland; marketing; Savannah Georgia; Savannah River Plant; titanium; titanium dioxide
  • The health, safety, and environmental regime at DuPont
    Partial Transcript: "When Jefferson became CEO of DuPont and Chairman, his very fist speech was about how DuPont needed to be a leader in product stewardship... he said every product needs a product steward..." "... it's in our own best interests from a business standpoint to be socially conscious of the environmental and health aspects of our products..."
    Synopsis: Merriman talks about health, safety and environmental concerns at DuPont. He talks about the creation of the product steward job at DuPont. He describes how he became the product steward of Kevlar and went from managing the problem of inhaled Kevlar fibers to the whole health, safety, and environmental impact of Kevlar.He says that it made good business sense and that product stewardship became a part of new product development.
    Keywords: Dow Chemical Company; DuPont; environment; Haskell laboratory; health and safety; product stewards; product stewardship