Mobility and Digital Technologies are Driving Faster Returns in the Chemical and Process Manufacturing Industries
After nearly two hundred years in business, the chemical and process manufacturing industry is facing the fastest rate of change to date. Today, the industry is driven by a customer-centric approach, in part thanks to new technologies that position manufacturers to gain competitive advantage. Leaders in the industry are using mobile solutions not only to enhance shop floor productivity and safety, but also to influence demand and deliver new services and product models. As technology in the industry advances, new frameworks help solve problems through digital interventions for scalable solutions and with faster returns.
“Leaders in the industry are using mobile solutions not only to enhance shop floor productivity and safety, but also to influence demand and deliver new services and product models”
While the industry is no stranger to change, this recent transformation has been more pronounced than previous industry revolutions. If we look back at history, from the year 1850 onward was an era of discovery, followed by an era of commercialization and then a focus on productivity, finally arriving at today’s era of customer centricity, which began early in the 21st century. Many of the tectonic shifts in the industry have taken place due to rapid commoditization, rising raw material and energy costs, stringent compliance requirements, the availability of new production locations, and a rapidly changing downstream industry. As a recent example, the introduction of ground-breaking products from a new genre of chemicals, originating from nanotechnology and life sciences, is the result of some of these challenges. Today, chemical process manufacturers are devising short-term and long-term strategies and transforming their business models to respond better to these challenges.
Building the Case For New Age Technologies
Following in the footsteps of others in the manufacturing industry and the forward looking CPG industry, chemical and process industry players are also focusing on customer-centric business models to gain competitive edge. In part, many industry players are working to build closer relationships with customers in an otherwise commoditized market. Customer demands also are on the rise, driven by the emergence of new technologies. Today, customers expect easier ways of doing business, such as system connectivity and a single point of contact for transactional activities. In response, chemical industry players need to align their business models with the new market demands. As an example, one leading chemical player is focusing on e-business with a dual strategic agenda to create customer value and improve internal efficiency. With respect to enhancing customer value, the organization is focused on personalization of business information in real time and maintaining a transparent supply chain network and transactions (both historical and real time). To create internal efficiency, it needs to concentrate on digitization of the Order-to-Cash (OTC) process, reduction in transaction costs, and improvement of the effort-intensive Plant and Terminal Operation (PTO) processes.
Leveraging Digital Technologies to Gain Competitive Edge
Today is a turning point for the industry to leap ahead with the digital wave to align execution with plan. Leaders in the industry are using mobile solutions not only to enhance plant floor productivity safety, but also for an additional channel to influence demand and bring servitization to their product models in a connected way.
As an example, startup and shutdown procedures often bring prolonged periods of latency in this industry, leading to loss in productivity. These losses can be minimized through a digitally guided solution for the plant floor operator. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) helped one large chemical manufacturing customer to leverage a mobile solution for digitizing such procedures. Besides virtualization of startup and shutdown procedures, the solution allowed for the complete workflow to be digitized and delivered easily accessible equipment status updates. This enabled safe handover and takeover with complete traceability of actions. What’s more, it resulted in productivity improvement equivalent to days of additional capacity.
Planned shutdown involves a multidisciplinary team from plant operations, maintenance engineers, inspection engineers, safety and health personnel to shutdown planners who painstakingly schedule ‘turnaround’ workflows following a defined set of ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ (SOP). For plant floor shutdown, the plant floor operator has to physically isolate the plant section for handover, empty out the process material, de-energize equipment in the blocked-out section, ensure housekeeping, issuance of work order and hand over plant section for maintenance. This oversimplified process follows the defined guidelines of SOP with people to people, people to equipment and people to process interfaces. Planned intervention to reduce latency and lag directly impacts productivity.
To put this into context, a company with 100 manufacturing sites, three plants on each site and an average of 15 days of turnaround time each year, startup and shutdown procedures could lead to 4,500 days of lost productivity. A two percent improvement in productivity from this ‘Digital Guided Solution’ will lead to productivity improvement equivalent to 90 days of (averaged) additional capacity, sometimes called the ‘hidden plant’.
Further imagine leveraging geospatial zoning of mobile device for improving plant floor safety. Health and safety audits done at a periodic cadence help reduce incidents and protect against corporate exposure. Geospatial zoning of mobile devices is a highly productive means to deliver safe movement alerts and location-specific workflow triggers. For example, as an auditor moves from the non-drive to the drive end of the compressor, the system triggers a workflow driven template for faster and error-free audit compliance. This, coupled with predictive EHS analytics to alert sites at risk, helps to proactively plan for audits. This approach was an outcome of scientific data driven transformation as an effective and efficient means to manage audits for companies with multiple sites.
Competing with the Best
Chemical and process manufacturing companies, those emerging as winners, are using an innovative combination of digital technologies to reimagine their businesses. These interventions, still at different stages of maturation, are transforming plant and personnel safety, productivity and customer experience, a whole new world of opportunities transforming the industry to grow at a lower cost.