Conditions over the next decade are likely to become more challenging with considerable uncertainty and disparity of performance throughout the chemical industry, warns ABB in the first of a two-part white paper launched recently on ‘Transforming Chemical Operations Through Technology’.
The white paper argues that conditions now show the chemical industry is at an important stage of transformation and explores the external and internal challenges which can be addressed through digitalisation.
The paper suggests that in an uncertain macroeconomic environment and an industry with significant production and geography-related complexity, chemical manufacturers would be wise to invest in digital technologies and advanced analytics to help them harness their data for maximum performance and thrive despite the challenges they face.
“The complex nature of chemical production renders optimal decision-making particularly difficult,” explains Dr Zied M Ouertani, digital lead, chemicals and refining for ABB’s Industrial Automation, Oil, Gas and Chemicals Business Unit. “The number of variables to process for maximum performance are enormous. In addition to volatile costs and prices, chemicals can be made in many ways to achieve the same output. Challenges also vary by region. For example, plants in the emerging markets must address a skillset gap whereas those in mature ones need to address an exodus of retiring talent.”
“It is easy to draw down data using digital technologies, but data for data sake is of no use to anyone. The true benefits are only realised when the technology can filter that data to make it useful in the boardroom and we are now at a tipping point where that has become possible.”
ABB goes on to suggest that leaders must also move quickly, or risk being surpassed by competitors who embrace the full potential of digitisation to transform operations at the device, process, plant and enterprise level.
Dr Ouertani adds: “Digitalisation, done well, allows chemical companies to get a highly granular view of their assets which, when viewed in conjunction with data from more traditional business systems, can generate quicker and better insights to drive competitive advantage.”
“But, to benefit significantly from the potential offered, companies will need to embrace digitalisation on a bigger, much more holistic scale encompassing end-to-end processes throughout plants and across the supply chain – not just in isolated pockets of change.”
The paper draws from a selection of independent sources and illustrates ways in which digital developments can benefit the sector. It discusses the potential of increasingly cost-effective digital technology to facilitate improved monitoring, more integrated operations and remote management to drive greater productivity at reduced costs and risk in the light of market complexity and uncertainty.