Blades, Herbert (interviewee), Smith, John K. (John Kenly), 1951- (interviewer), Oates, Mike (videographer), 302 Stories, Inc. (production company), Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation (originator)
After describing his education and early work at the DuPont Company on polymer solutions, Herbert Blades recounts his contributions to the development of Tyvek and Kevlar. On the Tyvek project, he describes developing the polymerization process for creating high-density polyethylene fibers after such paper-like fibers had been accidentally created in the laboratory.
Blades details his work on Kevlar, for which he developed a commercially viable process to spin fibers from the polymer. Blades describes the three components of the process. First, he discovered that a relatively high concentration of polymer could be dissolved upon heating in 100 per cent sulfuric acid, which is non-aqueous and non-corrosive. The resulting solution had a low enough viscosity that it could be spun rapidly through a spinnerette, a small hole. Next, Blades discovered that instead of spinning the fiber directly into a water bath, leaving a small air gap led to fibers that were significantly stronger. Finally, he determined that the water "quenching" of the fiber occurred extremely fast. His spinning innovations made it possible to spin Kevlar fibers economically and at high speeds.
Wolffe, Robert (interviewee), Smith, John K. (John Kenly), 1951- (interviewer), Oates, Mike (videographer), 302 Stories, Inc. (production company), Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation (originator)
Bob Wolffe details his contribution to Kevlar, which primarily involved working with the aircraft industry to develop markets for Kevlar fibers in weight-saving composite materials. Wolffe consulted with aircraft engineers to learn their requirements and made composite materials to meet the industry's specifications. The first applications were for interior, non-structural uses where failure would not jeopardize the safe operation of the aircraft. Over time, DuPont developed significant domestic and international markets for Kelvar composites in aircraft. Wolffe notes, though, that the most important application was in ballistics.
Wolffe recounts DuPont's efforts during the 1980s to produce its own fabricated composite parts in an effort to move away from being primarily a supplier of Kevlar fabric. Wolffe attributes the failure of this venture to the company underestimating the importance of design and testing of aircraft parts.
Sturgeon, Don (interviewee), Smith, John K. (John Kenly), 1951- (interviewer), Oates, Mike (videographer), 302 Stories, Inc. (production company), Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation (originator)
Donald Sturgeon details his work at DuPont evaluating the properties of Kevlar fibers, particularly for their utility in composite structures. He recounts that while the fiber was incredibly strong in tension, it had relatively poor performance in compression. The peculiar features of Kevlar fibers required that Kevlar reinforced products had to be carefully engineered. Initially, DuPont hoped that Kevlar would find a large market as tire cord. When tire manufacturers opted for steel belts in radial tires, DuPont had to find other markets for Kevlar.
Sturgeon further describes his work in developing novel applications for Kevlar. Because Kevlar was difficult to make and process, DuPont had invested an unprecedented $500 million by the mid-1970s. Instead of one large market, DuPont had to develop many smaller applications for Kevlar. Sturgeon worked on developing and promoting weight-saving Kevlar composite materials to the aircraft industry. He was also involved in developing bullet-proof vests and non-cut fabrics. Through these extensive product development and marketing efforts, Kevlar eventually became a profitable product.
Memeger, Wesley, Jr. (interviewee), Smith, John K. (John Kenly), 1951- (interviewer), Oates, Mike (videographer), 302 Stories, Inc. (production company), Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation (originator)
Wesley Memeger, Jr. details his contribution to streamlining the synthesis of Kevlar, which allowed the timely start-up of the first commercial scale Kevlar plant. In the laboratory, the polymer for Kevlar had previously been prepared by polymerizing para-phenylene diamine and terephthaloyl chloride in a mixture of two solvents, HMPA (hexamethylphosphoramide) and NMP (N-methylpyrrolidinone). Memeger found that a polymer with satisfactory molecular weight could be made using only HMPA, a discovery which made the preparation of Kevlar more commercially viable, as it allowed for a continuous polymerizer in a single solvent system.
Memeger recounts that DuPont used HMPA as the solvent for Kevlar production in the early 1970s, but after toxicology tests conducted at the company's Haskell Laboratory raised doubts about the safety of the solvent, DuPont replaced HMPA with NMP and calcium chloride. Memeger describes his subsequent work at DuPont investigating melt processible polymers, which share some properties with Kevlar but lack equivalent chemical and thermal stability, as well as his work on ring opening routes to polymers with novel properties. An accomplished artist, Memeger continues to be impressed by the elegance and simplicity of the Kevlar polymer that produces such remarkable properties.
Moore, Frank, 1927- (interviewee), Plasky, Joseph G. (interviewer)
After discussing his Wilmington childhood, his brief military service, and his education, Frank Moore describes his first projects as a power engineer with the DuPont Engineering Service Division. In addition to giving project details, he mentions some of his and his coworkers recreational activities at the various plants he worked at. He then discusses the philosophy behind the ESD Gulf Coast regional office in Texas, which he managed for five years and which provides engineering consulting services for regional DuPont and other industrial facilities.
Moore then describes his return to Wilmington in 1969 and the changes he implemented as departmental engineer, such as centralizing small project activity and holding annual meetings with all plant engineering superintendents where the superintendents could collaborate and discuss solutions to mutual problems. He and Plasky also discuss plant power design changes in the Textile Fibers Department. Toward the end of the interview, Moore reflects on his personal management style and DuPont's changing relationship with external engineering and construction vendors, particularly relating to Moore's work for the Fluor Daniel firm.
Reickert, Frank (interviewee), Plasky, Joseph G. (interviewer)
Frank Reickert briefly mentions his early life in Poughkeepsie and his college education before delving into his first position with DuPont as a design engineer at Seaford, mentioning several early projects. He then discusses the various positions he held in the maintenance department. Among other projects, Reickert describes a special assignment in which he developed a plan to shift from a system of single-skill mechanics to general mechanics and the way in which he convinced the union rep of the plan's efficacy. He also mentions the safety audit procedures in place at Seaford and has commentary on the levels of management he observed, which he thought was excessive yet appropriate for the time period of booming business.
He then speaks of the 8 years he spent in Jack Sigmund's Wilmington office, primarily as a facilitator and coordinator for various projects and committees. About this period, Reickert goes into detail about the wind-up committee he oversaw, which consisted of maintenance personnel from all the plants that had wind-ups and had members from other departments as well. The committee was formed to exchange information in order to improve the maintenance, operability, and performance of high-speed wind-ups. He also mentions a project on surface coatings he facilitated with the engineering department, which sought to reduce wear and improve product quality. He also details the paperwork involved in producing construction forecasts and his push to computerize them.
Near the end of his interview, Reickert discusses his work in the General Services Department, highlighting a project to redesign and renovate the executive offices of Conoco after that company's purchase by DuPont. He also briefly discusses his post-retirement consulting work, remarking on the amazement of companies at how much money they could save by enforcing safety regulations in the workplace. Throughout the interview, Reickert names other individuals who worked with him.
Livingston, Richard Donnan, 1921-2010 (interviewee), Plasky, Joseph G. (interviewer)
Dick Livingston begins his interview by discussing his early childhood, education, and his father's career with the DuPont Co. as an explosives expert. He then details his college education at Dartmouth and his military service in an Aircraft Repair Unit (ARU) in the South Pacific during World War II, mentioning his return trip in which he was allowed to set up a cot in the wheelhouse of a Liberty ship. He then describes his work at the DuPont Buffalo Rayon plant, going into detail about the aging machinery in the facility and his work replacing lead-covered materials with more modern corrosion-resistant materials.
Livingston remarks on his shift from supervisor to engineering associate at the Seaford Nylon plant, a newly created position which he describes as a sideways career move. He discusses a major project he worked on in this position during the 1970s to monitor and predict chemical changes in the nylon production process, in part by employing pioneering computer simulation software to calculate flows, temperature changes, degrees of polymerization, and other variables. The project resulted in a significant reference manual, and Livingston mentions being honored for his work when DuPont Co. named a room for him at its Singapore facilities. He finally spends some time speaking of his post-retirement role as a consultant for the company.