Chemical Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 can transform the very chemical industry as the new backbone of many end-market industries. Through dual areas of business operations and growth, these technologies enable smart supply chains and smart factories, as well as create new business models. Hexa Ingenieros, as a specialist consultancy providing solutions and helping to achieve sustainable actions, assesses the key applications of Industry 4.0 at different stages of the chemical value chain, the opportunities presented by Industry 4.0 applications, and the ways in which Industry 4.0 technologies can help chemical companies achieve strategic imperatives, specifically in the areas of business operations and business growth. In some ways, the chemical industry influences almost every manufactured product. This industry converts petroleum and natural gas into intermediate materials, which are ultimately transformed into products we use every day. The global chemical industry is the backbone of many end-market industries, such as agriculture, automotive, construction and pharmaceuticals. Therefore, 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 the 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 revenues or generate entirely new revenue streams. These strategic objectives can be pursued at different stages of the chemicals value chain and in combination with each other. The initial impetus for Industry 4.0 in the chemical industry is mainly at the level of business operations, 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 require more time to develop. Plastic grains

Improved commercial operations

Improving business operations manifests itself in two ways: improving productivity and reducing risk. Chemical plant productivity can be improved through a variety of smart manufacturing techniques, such as predictive asset management, process control and production simulations, among others. However, reducing risk involves managing supply chains and internal operations to respond to changing customer needs and improve safety and quality.

Intelligent 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 high asset intensity. Because of this circumstance, advanced technologies can help companies optimize their maintenance costs and improve asset efficiency through predictive or digital maintenance. Using continuous feeds of data collected from sensors on critical equipment, such as turbines, compressors and extruders, advanced analytics tools can identify patterns to predict and diagnose potential breakdowns. In doing so, intelligent equipment 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. In addition, data from similar equipment installed at different sites can be collected, compared and used for predictive maintenance, performance optimization and design of new installations. Simultaneous transmission of machine performance information 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, enables greater control over batch consistency and quality.
  • Energy utilization
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 optimal working conditions. The chemical industry has a high degree of automation and most plants monitor standard variables such as temperature, flows, tank levels and pressures to derive the optimal working conditions of the plant. However, Industry 4.0 technologies, such as virtual or virtual software sensors, can augment these data points with additional information and enable monitoring 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. While traditional safety methods involve monitoring and sample analysis, connected technologies can help companies continuously monitor products, by-products and any waste generated.
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