Willem Buitelaar, stakeholder relations manager for DuPont – AMCHAM (2024)

Willem Buitelaar is stakeholder relations manager for DuPont in Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands, supporting DuPont sites in their employee, government, partner and community relations.

Please share with our readers the history of Dupont coming to Luxembourg at the end of the second world war under the Marshall plan. What was the original goal and plan?

End of the 1950’s and early 1960’s DuPont jumped across the Atlantic to expand its manufacturing capacities. Sites in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands were founded. And in Luxembourg too. Ground was broken in Contern in 1962 and the first polyester films were made in 1964. Ever since, the site has been expanding – like other sites across Europe – with the manufacturing of thermoplastics, Typar® (a spunbonded polypropylene material) and Tyvek® (a spunbonded high density polyethylene material).

How has the business model of DuPont changed over the years?

The business model has always been to be close to the (b-to-b) customer, and work on the basis of co-creation. The customer has a problem, or an idea, and with our products we help solving their challenges. On the other hand, we have been inventing many life-changing materials.

Over the years, DuPont has been evolving. In the early days, we produced gunpowder and explosives, in the early 20th century we invented many life-changing materials such as nylon, neoprene, lycra, Nomex®, Kevlar® and many types of plastics used in automotive, aerospace and consumer applications. Over the years we have seen a change in focus, as far as product groups are concerned, though. Over the years, DuPont has been acquiring and divesting businesses, but that is a usual process for multi-industrial companies. Whereas in past years we were strong in diverse specialty plastics. today we are focusing more on electronics (components for smartphones, tablets, electric vehicles etc.), on water solutions (advanced technologies for wastewater treatment, safe drinking water, for example) and safety and protection (personal protection, house wrap, critical medical packaging, to mention just a few).

Please tell us about the current product Tyvek®. What does it do and how is it made?

Tyvek® is another DuPont invention, that is on the market for over 50 years, and that has been evolving over the years, with many new applications and improvements over the years. For competition reasons we’d like to keep the manufacturing process as secret as possible, so bear with me if I don’t disclose a lot on the process. But the material is really revolutionary, as it lets vapor go through and keeps water out. That makes Tyvek® ideal for what we call housewrap: it lets your house breath and prevents water and moisture from getting in. The same principle makes it ideal for medical packaging: sterilizing vapor can get in, but viruses and bacteria can’t. Or protective garments for medical workers: they are protected against viruses, but wearing a Tyvek® garment allows them to be comfortable. Especially during pandemics like the Ebola crisis and the recent Covid-19 crisis these garments have really made a difference. Also: if you have anything valuable to ship with the post or a courier, Tyvek® envelopes are very useful as the material is very resistant and will keep your goods safe and arriving without damage.

With the just announced opening of the Tyvek® line 8 does that mean that there are 8 product lines in Contern and, considering this most recent line had a value of 400 million US$, does this represent a manufacturing asset base of 4 billion Euro?

Wow, you are jumping to conclusions! And unfortunately I cannot tell you as many details as you’d like me to. But the number of 400 million US$ for this new line is correct, and we do have several manufacturing lines, both in Richmond, VA and here in Luxembourg. The new line adds capacity to serve our customers across the globe, both in Europe and other regions.

Are there any other products being manufactured in Luxembourg?

Yes, we manufacture another product, called Typar®. This material also has many different applications, one of them being a root barrier in landscaping and gardening. Another use of Typar® is soil stabilizer. Did you know parts of Findel airport are built on Typar®? And that the railtrack between Luxembourg and Oetrange has been stabilized with Typar® when the track was doubled? And during the Covid-19 crisis the material has had a huge demand to be used as a stiffener in FFP-2 masks. But is can also be used in the sports shoes you wear. So again, a very versatile material!

At the inauguration of the new production line, your guests included the Grand Duke, the Minister of Digitalisation, Research and Higher Education, the Presidents of both the LCGB and OBGL unions and two mayors. You appear to have close and harmonious relations with everyone. How do you do that?

Indeed, we have good relationships with many stakeholders from the beginning. For us it has always been critical to build and nurture these relationships, whether at national or at local level. Consistency, openness, and transparency, in good times and in less good times, are the building blocks of our approach. Talking about the local level: yes, we had two mayors among our guests, from Hesperange and from Contern, for the simple reason that our site is build on both their land.

Many companies have moved manufacturing outside of Luxembourg while DuPont appears able to recruit and retain needed staff at all levels, manage the ever-increasing environmental requirements while still operating at a profit. How do you do that?

We have a very diverse workforce, including more than 25 different nationalities. Our Human Resource colleagues actively recruit new employees, at job fairs for example, to complement those who will go on retirement in the next few years. In addition, employees are encouraged to refer potential candidates for open positions. The turn-over is very low, so you may conclude our working conditions are meeting expectations. We benchmark our conditions of employment frequently to check if they meet market requirements.

As far as environmental requirements are concerned, we continuously work to make our productions processes and our products more sustainable. That fits well with our core values. As a company we support the European Green Deal, although we have to stay realistic on the pace that industries can make transitions happen. Hydrogen is considered a great alternative source of energy, and we would embrace using it. But if the infrastructure is not available it remains a nice perspective. Therefore, we were pleased with the initiative of the Antwerp Declaration for a European Industrial Deal that was signed last February. Over 2000 companies and organizations from 25 industry sectors have signed this declaration, among other things asking for a more consistent and long-term industrial policy in Europe, to support the transition that has to be made. Industry is often considered as part of the problem, but with all the knowledge and innovation power, we’d rather see industry as part of the solution. Fortunately, the Luxembourgish government is realistic and has an industry-oriented mindset. Their representatives recognize the challenges political decisions may have for industry. Their decisions are made from a different perspective, and may not always be beneficial for us, but at least they listen carefully and understand our point of view.

Willem Buitelaar, stakeholder relations manager for DuPont – AMCHAM (2024)
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