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Wacker’s HDK plant is hitting its milestones

By AUTUMN HUGHES

The newest production line at Wacker Polysilicon North America's Charleston plant is scheduled to be completed by the second quarter of 2019, with HDK pyrogenic silica being produced at the site.

HDK is Wacker’s trademark for its pyrogenic silica, of which 13,000 metric tons will be produced each year in Charleston.

"We are hitting all of our milestones," HDK plant manager William "Billy" Gram said in January, adding at that time the plant was about 80 percent completed. "We're completing it in phases."

At that time, construction of the plant was about 80 percent completed.

"We're completing it in phases," he said.

Gram said the HDK plant’s “good for order” (GFO) date is slated for the end of June or beginning of July.

Mary Beth Hudson, vice president of Polysilicon NCA and the Charleston site manager, said the GFO date is the "ultimate date" to begin producing good quality product at the HDK plant.

"That means it meets or exceeds all of the standards," Gram said of the finished product.

"I think we should be able to meet that date," Hudson said.

Gram said Wacker's reputation "is in quality of their product,” and the only thing higher than Wacker’s quality reputation is its reputation for safety.

"That's our No. 1 priority, bar none," Gram said.

In addition to having the plant construction completed, Gram said Wacker-Charleston must also have a trained workforce to operate the plant.

"We don't just build pretty buildings," Gram said with a smile, adding the HDK plant’s workforce is "ready to operate the entire facility."

Gram said there are approximately 50 employees at the plant, which Hudson added is "in line with what we initially expected."

Those employees are now being trained on procedures of every aspect of the plant's operation and testing to ensure they know those procedures "and if there are problems that they know what to do," Gram said.

Part of the HDK plant is a lab used for quality testing.

"We do have a fully staffed lab right now," Gram said.

Hudson said Wacker-Charleston has about 720 total employees with the majority assigned to polysilicon operations, but there are also some corporate engineers, corporate information technology, procurement services and other employees. In addition, there are contractors on-site, she added.

The new plant represents an additional investment of $150 million by Wacker.

Gram said he is proud of Wacker’s investment in Charleston, adding many things have to come together to make it successful.

"We have pretty much everything we need," he said.

As for the finished product that will come from the plant, Gram said HDK is in products including silicone sealants, cosmetics, toothpastes, thermal insulation in appliances, automotive coatings, sealants, adhesives, printer toner, paints, rubber and more. There are also food grade and pharmaceutical grade HDK, which are not planned for production in Charleston at this time, Gram said.

However, Hudson said those grades of HDK "could be down the road" in Wacker’s plans.

Gram added Wacker already sells HDK in the United States, and its HDK operations are being moved to the Charleston facility.

Seeing the Wacker-Charleston site expand is especially meaningful for Gram, who grew up in Soddy-Daisy and graduated from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga with a degree in mechanical engineering. He has been with Wacker since 2011 and feels fortunate to be able to work in his chosen field so close to where he grew up and where his family still lives.