worker with equipment

Arrive Without Travelling

Another Koch company with a significant presence in China is INVISTA, which started a $1.2 billion construction project at its Yinglon site in Shanghai in late 2019. Work on that new adiponitrile plant looked like it would be significantly affected when international travel to and from China was suddenly shut down last February. 

“Normally we would have flown 20 or 25 key people from Yinglon to our ADN plant in Orange, Texas [see August 2019 Discovery], so they could see how the new technology coming to their plant is configured and better understand how it operates,” said Jerry Grunewald, INVISTA’s vice president of operations transformation. “But that was no longer possible. We couldn’t send leaders or subject matter experts from here to China either, unless we were willing to have them isolated for two weeks before they could maybe — maybe — set foot on the construction site. And then they would have had to quarantine again for who knows how long when they returned to the states.” 

INVISTA’s solution to this unexpected problem was to ramp up the use of an experimental technology called Mira, which had been in test mode at several INVISTA locations in 2019. 

“The concept of Mira is pretty straightforward,” Grunewald said. “You attach a smartphone to the front of a hardhat, activate a customized video function, and then — kind of like a FaceTime chat — send a video feed to someone who can examine what’s going on in real time. The remote team sees exactly what the device wearer sees and can draw on a screen that shows up on the wearer’s display screen.

“The beauty of the technology is that the leader or subject matter expert who receives the feed can be literally anywhere — Texas, France, the Netherlands or even elsewhere in China. The only difficulty you might have to deal with is the difference in time zones.” 

Grunewald said INVISTA has gone from making a dozen Mira “calls” a week to more than 100. “We’re now using it for lots of things, like inventory assessments, which our accounting team can now do remotely. It makes us much more efficient and saves a lot of money.” The same is true for other Koch companies using this technology. 

Augmented reality tools are also being used by Guardian Industries at float glass plant sites being built in Mexico and Poland. Doug Girdler, Guardian’s CFO, said: “Getting the right wireless tools in the hands of our on-site employees is really driving value for Guardian. Capturing the right data and then sharing it through our knowledge systems means we get actionable insights we can implement immediately.”  

Mira is just one of several new technologies being used by INVISTA to transform its operations. HoloLens is an augmented reality tool that helps INVISTA train operators how to conduct operating tasks in the field. Much like a virtual reality game, it projects 3D prerecorded videos onto a face screen, giving trainees a visual experience that adds to their knowledge base in the real work environment. 

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Similarly, INVISTA is using technology and the principles of MBM to significantly enhance the skillset of 24/7/365 shift teams, helping them operate more efficiently and respond to operational issues immediately rather than waiting hours or days for help. “For years, a lot of operations had the mentality of just trying to make it through nights or weekends until the regular weekday work crew showed up. By leveraging better technology, we can really get the best knowledge applied much faster, so that the shift really does run the shift.”