Q&A with Emmanuel Sibileau, Site Director, Tronox’s Thann Plant

Can you tell us about your career at Thann? What initially attracted you to the manufacturing industry?

After graduating with a process chemical master’s degree, my wish was to join a large company with a role in operations. This is how I began my career at Thann. I spent my first four years as a process engineer in the TiO2 base process where I was trained as Six Sigma Black Belt and then Master Black Belt. During this period, I had the chance to participate in the commissioning of the plant capacity increase for ultrafine products. Thanks to this first experience, I was promoted as ultrafine production manager and after three years, I became the TiO2 production lead. During those six years, we developed and commercialized several major products, contributing significantly to the Specialty Chemicals and Materials (SC&M) business. In 2015, I left operations to lead our Technology & Innovation (T&I) department with a focus on reliability. Thanks to our small and highly effective teams, we improved the Thann plant efficiency, reaching the best performance ever. In 2017, I discovered maintenance and project engineering, enjoying budget management to improve the plant. Right after Tronox’s acquisition of Cristal, I was appointed as the T&I director for Europe, covering the three European Tronox plants, one of my most exciting experiences so far with two new plants, processes, people and cultures to discover.

 

What inspired you to take on the role of Site Director at Thann?

This role is the ideal position to really influence the culture and the future of the plant with regards to safety, people and technology. Thann is a great plant with great people. We have had plenty of success stories, and there are still a lot of opportunities to develop. It is the only plant manufacturing and selling three totally different product lines. These include specialty anatase, ultrafine TiO2 (CristalACTiVTM products) and titanium chemicals. Such a diverse business is a daily source of motivation.

 

The first 100 days in a new job are crucial. How did you live this experience? What have you learned?

I received a lot of support from our managing directors, all of Tronox’s European leaders and those within the plant. Expectations were and are still high. I like to plan and execute, so I built a 90-day plan with a combination of initiatives on safety, quality, people, communication, SC&M business, key internal and external stakeholders.

This has been a great experience so far which has reinforced my belief to keep optimism, to show enthusiasm and to build the strongest relationships possible with all the people at the site.

Unexpectedly, in my first 100 days as site director, COVID-19 became a high priority on top of the day-to-day management of the plant.

 

The plant is in the middle of a city – what does this mean for your daily job?

It is definitely a source of care and motivation. As a responsible manufacturer, we always have to be conscious of what we do as it influences our community. There are basic and regulatory topics, such as minimizing the noise and the emissions, to which we pay a lot of attention. I also believe that the relationships we have with our neighbors and officials are critical, and we plan to focus more on this in 2021. We are proud of our plant, and together with our Commercial Director, Jean-François Pasquier, we look forward to sharing the positive things we are working on.

 

The chemical industry has evolved a lot in the last 20 years, what has stood out to you?

I started my career the year of the “AZF” plant explosion in Toulouse, France. This terrible accident has tremendously changed the image of the chemical industry and numerous very demanding regulations have been put in place since that time. I believe that this image has recently improved, thanks to a better understanding by the population of the benefits brought by the chemical industry (chemistry is everywhere around us) and because of the efforts to make our activities safer and more sustainable. Thann is a great example of this. In fact, whereas several consolidations happened in our TiO2 industry, Thann is still in operation despite its limited scale, numerous types of equipment and a location in the middle of a city. How is it possible? The Thann plant has made itself essential to the TiO2 industry, serving markets in which TiO2 has key advantages and continuously innovating and reinventing itself. The development of our CristalACTiV™ products is a great example of this capacity to understand market needs and transform those needs into industrial products. Moreover, even chemicals produced in Thann contribute to sustainability. As an example, CristalACTiV™ ultrafine based solutions facilitate the conversion of nitrogen oxides, generated by the combustion of fossil fuels, into environmentally neutral products.

 

Thann is a small site among all TiO2 plants worldwide. Is it a drawback or an advantage?

As I mentioned before, this scale would no longer be viable if we were only making pigment, but this drawback has become a strength. The limited scale enables flexibility and quick launch of new products, which is needed for a specialty business. Our two processes, chloride and sulfate, and multiple types of equipment allow multiple technology solutions to meet the market challenges and customer demands. The three product lines, specialty anatase, ultrafine TiO2 and titanium chemicals, are used in very different markets and have different life cycles which ensure financial robustness. When one product is down, the two others can sustain the plant. All of this can only happen because of a committed and skilled workforce. We continue to build upon our success and expertise with a new R&D center and renewed focus on new market segments for our specialty anatase and ultrafine TiO2.

 

What does success mean for you?

Success is our ability to safely achieve ambitious goals as a team.

 

Is there something you feel the world should know that we didn’t ask?

Thanks to our Tronox strategy, Thann has the opportunity to be fully internally integrated on feedstock and to implement the most advanced technologies. These major initiatives, combined with the focus of SC&M business on new developments, will confirm the world leading position of Thann’s plant in TiO2 specialty chemicals.

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Tronox is continuously developing new CristalACTiV™ materials to meet existing and future environmental regulations and respond to the needs of innovative applications.

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