Industry 4.0 can transform the chemical industry itself as the new backbone of many end-market industries. Through dual areas of business operations and growth, these technologies enable smart supply chains and factories, as well as creating new business models.
Hexa Ingenieros, as a specialist consultancy that offers solutions and helps to achieve sustainable actions, evaluates the key applications of Industry 4.0 in the different stages of the value chain of chemical products, the opportunities presented by the applications of Industry 4.0 and the ways that Industry 4.0 technologies can help chemical companies achieve strategic imperatives, specifically in the areas of business operations and business growth.
In some way, the chemical industry influences almost all manufactured products. This industry converts oil and natural gas into intermediate materials, which are ultimately transformed into products that we use every day. The global chemical industry is the backbone of many end-market industries, including agriculture, automotive, construction, and pharmaceuticals. So changes in the chemical industry can have a ripple effect on other industries.
Industry 4.0 brings together some advanced technologies to form a greater connection between physical and digital, and can potentially transform the chemical industry by promoting strategic growth and streamlining operations.
Industry 4.0 and chemicals
Of the two imperatives of business operations and growth, organizations focused on the former can use Industry 4.0 technologies primarily to improve productivity and reduce risk, while those focused on growth can apply Industry 4.0 to generate higher income or generate entirely new income streams. These strategic objectives can be pursued at different stages of the chemicals value chain and in combination with each other.
The initial push for Industry 4.0 in the chemical industry is primarily at the business operations level, due to the abundance of historical sensor data collected by chemical companies over the years. The long-term potential for business growth applications promises to be transformative as well, but those applications take more time to develop.
Improved business operations
Improving business operations manifests itself in two ways: improving productivity and reducing risk. Chemical plant productivity can be improved through various smart manufacturing techniques, such as predictive asset management, process control, production simulations, and more. However, reducing risk means managing supply chains and internal operations to respond to changing customer needs and improve safety and quality.
Smart manufacturing to improve productivity
Smart manufacturing combines IT, such as IoT, Artificial Intelligence, advanced data analytics, additive manufacturing, and robotics, among others. This process can benefit chemical companies in several ways:
- Predictive asset management
The chemical industry is characterized by a high intensity of assets. For this reason, advanced technologies can help companies optimize their maintenance expenses and improve asset efficiency through predictive or digital maintenance.
Using the continuous feed of data collected from sensors in critical equipment such as turbines, compressors, and extruders, advanced analysis tools can identify patterns to predict and diagnose potential breakdowns. By doing so, smart teams can send messages to plant operators about any required maintenance, potential breakdowns, and parts ordering and delivery schedules. This can allow manufacturers to evolve from scheduled or reactive repairs to predictive maintenance. Additionally, data from similar equipment installed at different sites can be collected, compared, and used for predictive maintenance, performance optimization, and new facility design.
Simultaneous transmission of information on machine performance to both the chemical company and the equipment manufacturer can also improve aftermarket performance.
- Process management and control
In modern control rooms, data is collected through connected systems and presented to operators digitally, avoiding the need for manual reviews and saving operators time and effort.
However, digitization is only the first step. Industry 4.0 technologies, such as real-time analytics and automated control actions, bridge the digital and physical realms, supporting prediction, alerts, and prescriptive responses. This, in turn, allows for greater control over batch consistency and quality.
- Use of energy
Energy costs contribute significantly to the production costs of a chemical plant. A typical plant involves multiple activities and interactions, and it is difficult to select the optimal working conditions.
The chemical industry is highly automated and most plants monitor standard variables such as temperature, flows, tank levels, and pressures to derive optimal plant working conditions. However, Industry 4.0 technologies, such as virtual or virtual software sensors, can augment these data points with additional information and allow control of non-standard process variables to improve energy efficiency.
- Security management
Given the sensitive nature of their products, it is particularly critical for chemical companies to ensure the safety of their employees, supply chain partners and customers throughout the product life cycle.
Although traditional safety methods involve sample monitoring and analysis, connected technologies can help companies continually monitor products, by-products, and any waste generated.