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KNOXVILLE — Maintenance is key to keeping manufacturers competitive, a DuPont vice president told a University of Tennessee conference on maintenance and reliability Monday.

James B. Porter Jr., vice president of DuPont Engineering and Operations, said investors are not willing to fund capital projects that add to or upgrade manufacturing capacity, so manufacturers must make existing plants more reliable and productive.

“A lot of businesses don’t have reinvestment economics, so they must increase the uptime and production capabilities of current manufacturing operations,” Porter said. “The appetite for capital is going to have to be quelled.”

Porter, a Knoxville native and UT chemical engineering graduate, was the keynote speaker for MARCON 2000, a conference sponsored by UT’s Maintenance and Reliability Center. The center is a university-industry association dedicated to improving industrial productivity, efficiency and safety through advanced maintenance and reliability technologies and management.

He defined uptime as a measure of the amount of time a plant runs at capacity and with the required level of quality. Uptime is the key measure for improvement in manufacturing processes, he said. Transforming only 10 percent of downtime into uptime could be worth a 50 percent increase in pre-tax operating income for a company like DuPont, he said.

Porter stressed information technology as one of the keys to minimizing downtime.

“You can’t make progress without data,” he said.

Porter said in the past 20 years DuPont has dropped prices of its products, and he predicted further cuts as many highly processed products become commodities.

DuPont uses predictive maintenance (“fix it before it breaks”) and planned shutdowns for maintenance, he said.

“We run our shutdowns like we run our projects. Maintenance at DuPont has paid off and made our manufacturing more reliable.”