Digitisation of chemical industry

How does a chemicals company begin its digital journey?

Artificial intelligence and machine learning for generating new insights, faster. Robotics for managing automating production and assembly lines. Virtual and augmented reality to assist workers with complex tasks. IoT to enable predict maintenance of key assets. 3D printing. The ways in which next-generation digital technologies are enhancing industrial processes are hugely diverse and hugely sophisticated.

Nevertheless, the journey to digitisation is rarely straightforward – and the challenges in complex industrial sectors can be profound. Here, we’re honing in on the chemicals industry. How can a chemical company begin its journey to digitisation?

Understanding digitisation in the chemicals industry

First, let’s explore exactly what we mean by ‘digitisation’ in the context of the chemical industry. You might already be familiar with ‘Industry 4.0’, a term often used to describe the era of cyber-physical systems which myriad industrial sectors, chemicals included, are working toward. As Forbes puts it, Industry 4.0 refers to the fourth revolution that has occurred in manufacturing, which will take what was started in the third with the adoption of computers and automation and enhance it with smart and autonomous systems fuelled by data and machine learning’.

In other words, digitisation in the chemicals industry means implementing intelligent and autonomous systems which can either replace previously manual and cumbersome tasks (thereby freeing up resource for more strategic and creative ones), or generate new insights and business intelligence which was previously too complex or costly to unearth.

In practice, this can be achieved in a myriad of different ways. It might involve implementing machine learning algorithms that can analyse big data and make new suggestions for product development or process enhancement. It might involve implementing connected sensors that help automate previously manual equipment maintenance. It might involve introducing robotics that can take over tasks that previously had to be run by hand. And so on.

Chemical industry journey to  digitalisation

Starting the journey

That might explain what digitisation looks like in the chemicals industry, but it doesn’t necessarily start a business off on the journey. After all, the choices can seem endless.

Digitisation can, however, be broken down into some broader categories which can help executives in the chemicals industry to make smarter procurement decisions. Here are some areas to think about:

 

  • Agility: Here, we’re talking about aspects of digitisation that enable fast decision-making. This is critical for organisations across all sectors to compete in a digitally-led world, and the chemicals industry is no exception. How can your business or plant ensure that the right information is available to the right decision-makers at the right time? This is about using digitisation to break down data siloes, convert information to usable formats, and making it available across the organisation.

 

  • Optimisation: This is the process automation side of digitisation. Where can you use digital tools to automate tasks that previously relied on members of staff? Where can you automatically collect information that you previously had to gather manually? Where can you streamline workflows and production lines with the help fo digital technology?

 

  • Insights: This is where the Internet of Things (IoT) in conjunction with machine learning and artificial intelligence comes in. Either working from data you already have, or by gathering entirely new datasets with IoT sensors, this aspect of digitisation focuses on making your organisation smarter and better-informed.

Essentially we are talking about an ecosystem of digitisation, one in which these three areas work together to drive greater innovation and greater efficiency. If your chemicals plant has that ecosystem model in mind when starting on its Industry 4.0 journey, you will be better placed to grow in a sustainable way, and to ensure that all the elements of your digital infrastructure work seamlessly together.

For more advice on digitising your chemicals plant, get in touch with MLR Networks today.