For decades, chemical companies have been using remote sensing and communication technologies, such as monitoring and data acquisition, to run their plants and optimize production processes. The condition monitoring of key equipment improves the predictability of maintenance. The main change brought by digitization is that the number of sensors and data that operators have to manage has increased by one or two orders of magnitude.
As the cost of thermal and vibration sensors decreases, their use increases. Chemical enterprises have more data than ever to improve product quality and output, while reducing costs. Engineers can monitor plant operations to make sure they are within design parameters, and they can see when equipment is at risk of failure – all of which help improve plant reliability.
While opportunities for improving operations are increasing, the challenge of extracting meaningful information from large amounts of data is also increasing. Enterprises need to develop new analytical capabilities to gain meaningful insights, and the entire industry of third-party solution providers who can help maximize the use of data has risen. These insights have helped manufacturers make better decisions about when to carry out maintenance or replace parts or equipment. These insights will increasingly help them monitor the production of chemicals in real time, provide advice, and even adjust the process to optimize mixing.
Digitalization also helps to improve resource management, especially for field forces. Custom apps on mobile phones and wireless tablets help the entire team understand who does what, where, and what capabilities. This can improve productivity through intelligent routing technology from one task to the next, without the need to return to the scheduling point or warehouse. The company can carry out early maintenance more effectively and make better use of the time of skilled workers. In fact, according to Bain’s research, working hours can be increased from one-third to two-thirds with better resource management.
Priorities of different chemical enterprises
Executives in the chemical industry have to decide where and how to invest in digital technology based on their priorities and their position in the market. Determining the order and speed of digital transformation is a strategic activity, which depends on the objectives of the enterprise and the source of competitive advantage, rather than the availability of new technologies. As a result, there is no way to do it once and for all.
For some people, interaction with customers is the most important thing. Data analysis and digital technology achieve clearer segmentation, higher value solutions and new customer interaction model. Other companies may focus on improving operations: connecting sensors and better analysis can help reduce downtime and speed up processes.
Another option is to invest in the interface between end-to-end digital technology and value chain steps. Data and analysis can help producers identify patterns and specific events, and they can apply these findings to mobile applications. These applications can provide better information in purchasing and production, or salesforce members can use it to customize more specific services for individual customers.
Finally, some companies may find specific opportunities at a specific point in the value chain. For example, the growth of 3D printing has led to an increase in the demand for composite and extruded filaments, which retail at about $30 per kilogram, while the basic price of ABS polymer is about $2 to $3 per kilogram.