Eric Williams – Corning Pharmaceutical Glass
- Written by: David Harry
- Produced by: Andrew Wright & Bill Parkison
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
Eric Williams once used laboratory glassware as part of his daily work as a research associate at Wilmington Pharmatech.
Now, he’s helping ensure lab glassware made at the Corning Pharmaceutical Glass in Vineland, New Jersey, doesn’t break when it’s shipped to customers.
Williams, the plant facilities supervisor, is overseeing parking lot and road upgrades that improve plant access and parking for employees—as well as for shipping and receiving operations. He’s also managing the expansion of the plant’s security building, including the addition of new cameras and badge readers, and guiding a sustainability project that allows the plant to recycle water for cooling facility compressors. That initiative, which will help reduce water use by 50 percent, will soon be accompanied by the replacement of existing compressors with more energy-efficient models.
Those projects would be heady accomplishments for any veteran plant or facilities director. For Williams, who went from being a research associate to getting tasked with helping Wilmington Pharmatech renovate a facility for expansion, his work at Corning has been invigorating—and a continuing education, of sorts.
“I started in the lab. I was working in a process chemistry lab before I even knew what a boiler was,” says Williams, who joined Corning in February 2021. “There’s a lot I don’t know so I’m just learning as I go and being as helpful as I can.”
Founded in 1851 in upstate New York by Amory Houghton Sr., Corning began as a small glass-making company. Among its earliest innovations were shatter-proof colored lenses used in railroad signal lanterns. Two years later, the company developed glass encasements for carbon filaments invented by Thomas Edison, helping usher in the first light bulbs.
Corning also developed its Pyrex heat resistant glassware for cooking and laboratory use. The company provided heat-resistant window glass for NASA’s Project Mercury in 1961 and its glass was used in every manned American spacecraft as well as at the International Space Station.
In 2015, Corning announced it had acquired the Vineland facility from German-based Gerresheimer Glass Inc. In 2017, the company partnered with Merck and Pfizer to make glass vials and cartridges for pharmaceuticals, including those capable of storing COVID-19 vaccines at subfreezing temperatures.
However, the plant is 130 years old and showing its age—much like the old DuPont plant in Newark, Delaware, that Williams helped Wilmington Pharmatech move into in 2014.
“It was almost like I was back where I started,” Williams says of taking on his new role. “The site dates to the late 1800s that had to be brought up to Corning standards.”
Roads, lots and water
For starters, the Vineland plant’s roads needed repair to improve comfort and reduce damaged glass getting shipped to customers. In spring 2022, Williams and his team began removing and replacing the old surface and the base materials underneath it. It was 90 percent completed when Williams chatted with Blueprint in November 2022.
He worked closely with contractors, setting the scope and scheduling for the work while ensuring shipping and receiving operations wouldn’t be interrupted.
Williams is also overseeing the expansion of the facility’s security building that began in 2022. The project, completed in December 2022, more than doubles the footprint from 460 square feet to 936 square feet. In addition, tech upgrades include new cameras and badge readers to check incoming employees.
Over the years, the Vineland plant has used groundwater from three wells, which draw as much as 500,000 gallons per day. The facility was connected to the city’s public water system in June 2022 and Williams is now working with Corning Vineland’s environmental engineer, Malik Davies, to decommission two onsite wells by removing connecting pipes and filling the wells with gravel and cement.
In addition, the facility is recycling water to cool compressors used in manufacturing. Once the water enters the compressor cooling loop, it continues to recirculate, cooling the compressors via heat exchangers, Williams explains.
The compressors, which are all more than 20 years old, will also be upgraded in 2023 and 2024. New compressors with variable speed motors can be adjusted to run as production dictates—meaning there’s less energy used and reducing the need for repairs, too.
Learning and leading
So how did a research associate skilled in formulating pharmaceutical compounds become a facilities management leader?
By being resourceful, Williams says.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Delaware in 2011, the New Jersey native was enjoying his research role at Wilmington Pharmatech. He had a knack for fixing things, too, such as finding a new floor substrate for a lab renovation.
“I am always up for finding solutions. It took three tries to find the perfect substrate—something chemically resistant and tough enough to endure our process traffic,” Williams recalls.
In 2014, he was asked to help look over a former DuPont facility in Newark, Delaware, which Wilmington Pharmatech wanted to expand into. While shadowing the facilities manager and lead mechanic, he found there was so much to learn that it was impossible to take notes. So, in his spare time, he read about how vacuum pumps worked, what kind of HVAC and pneumatic valves were needed to handle air pressure, the power requirements for the facility—anything that would help guide his decision-making.
Williams was eventually named senior facility manager for the four-year renovation project and worked with various contractors in Newark to build the pilot plant facility and labs.
“It was a free education, in a sense,” Williams says about learning to manage project hours and procurement, too.
After the facility opened in 2018, he began to seek new challenges—in facilities management, not research. When Corning contacted him late in 2020, Williams was ready.
“I’m always ready for new challenges and solving new puzzles,” he says. “But my team is crucial. I rely on everyone’s depth of knowledge and experience.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. II 2023 Edition here.
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