Advancements in digitalisation are offering the chemical industry a more efficient and sustainable future. Where digitalisation has become the second-most prominent capital issue for chemical businesses, with many leaders expecting it to disrupt and develop their approach significantly over the coming years, it is a poignant moment to explore the various routes chemical industry leaders can embed digitalisation products for their benefit.
Taking a holistic, full lifestyle approach when reviewing industry processes enables the amplification of value across the entire life cycle. From developing resilient supply chains with secure supply chain visibility to sustainable technology use in the reduction of resource use and energy consumption and using data to yield higher and more efficient production - there is a lot to gain from embedded digitalisation.
At each of these stages, what digitalisation routes can be explored for effective implementation within the chemical industry? From automation to artificial intelligence and cloud computation, there’s a lot to explore. I’m lucky enough to catch up with senior leaders about the impact of these trends on the future industry on a weekly basis as we watch its impact unfolds. What does this shift mean for a successful and sustainable future in the space?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the term coined for physical objects with sensors, processing ability, and software that can connect and exchange data with other adjacent devices or systems over the Internet or other communication routes. Utilisation of IoT can offer efficient new means of monitoring complex chemical processes and data collection - in turn, streamlining working processes and supporting in predicting future trends and outcomes.
IoT offers a digital identity of plant operations and the entire supply chain, helping chemical industry leaders effectively identify and remedy low-performing equipment, fix quality issues, and monitor chemical processes throughout the chemical industry life cycle. Operators can inspect equipment for issues, sending data directly to online cloud storage to be analysed against other inspections and provide the best route for supporting equipment health - saving both time and money.
Charlie commented on the importance of these tools;
Supply chain transparency is going to experience the most profound change, as we’ll be able to connect to the necessary data much easier. Companies are operating at such small margins now that they may not survive another [situation like] COVID, digitalisation can help reduce this risk.”
Automated technology use in the chemical industry can minimise resource wastage and streamline processing across the sector. The use of automation and collaborative robot integration to a chemical industry workflow can support the completion of repetitive or dangerous elements of chemical industry processing, whilst also minimising human error, injury, and inconsistencies in processing or data storage.
At ASK, Charlie mentions the value of this for productivity,
Cloud technology and ERPs have become must-haves for productivity enhancement. Order management systems enable people within the department to focus on other things, which is great for performance optimisation.”
The use of automation does not mean replacing human workforces but supplementing and supporting their work with a focus on optimised and efficient working processes. Automation allows workers to have a safer and more enjoyable working experience, leading to increased staff retention.
Artificial intelligence (AI) offers more efficient production, decreased downtime and optimisation of resources and energy consumption - all with advanced analytics for a more in-depth understanding of the chemical industry life cycle.
Introducing digital in commercial [functions such as] e-commerce and virtual services has allowed sales professionals to return to a hunter mentality, creating a vast quantity of new business prospects [as a result].
Creating a good user experience is difficult in this industry, so digitalisation works best as a hybrid tool – supplementing time-intensive core business functions to create a more efficient workflow. [Plus], exciting new features like augmented reality allow us to engage [better] with the environment.”
Automated data extraction, supply chain planning, and quality testing are all within reach of AI, allowing more time to be dedicated to the accelerated discovery of new products, treatments, and ingredients within the chemical industry space. AI also allows chemical industry leaders to ensure compliance with the strict quality management protocols, whilst also reducing industry carbon footprint and minimising toxic waste.
A crucial factor Charlie mentions for the future of the industry comes with gradual transformation, allowing the optimisation of organisational structure to ensure efficient processes for all.
Digital transformation is key for any company that wants to convey profound effect on organisational structure. It does mean flatter organisations [and] hierarchical structures will suffer; however, this is a very exciting time for those in the industry that want to pursue it.”
With a breadth of digitalisation available across all industries, we have seen the incredible potential of incorporating innovative new technologies for improved processing. For those in the chemical industry, the opportunity for safer, streamlined processes, consistent product offering, and optimised regulation compliance are all optimised by embedded digitalisation.
Feature in articles, videos, podcasts and more.
How can embedded digitalisation create a more efficient and sustainable chemical industry? Head of Global Digitalisation at ASK Chemicals to find out.
How can the chemical industry create a sustainable future by helping reduce CO2 emissions? Leading companies and start-ups alike are forging a path for change.
In this podcast, we speak to Joost van Helden, who's a Senior Program Manager of Digital Execution at Eni. We discuss the implementation process for digitalisation and how companies can go about achieving operational excellence. Click to listen.