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Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 and its impact on the Chemical industry

The idea of industry 4.0 in recent years has helped make great strides in the chemical industry. Digital transformations like digitization, AI, and automation have enabled the industry to boost production and cut costs at unprecedented levels. 88% of manufacturing industry leaders report that industry 4.0 has or will increase the productivity of their business, and 74% believe that it will increase profitability. In the past century, the chemical industry has seen great strides. Now, it’s time for yet another great leap towards improvement with new-age technologies, which have yielded promising results. Tech is ironing out various inefficiencies that had crept into the chemical industry due to the limitations of the pre-digitalization age. Changes to the old chemical industry systems and methods by positively harnessing technology complement the base upon which they had been implemented. How are global firms using the benefits of industry 4.0?

Controlling volatility

Fluctuations in prices of raw materials, supply chains, and various parts of the value chain have historically cut deep into the profitability of many businesses operating in the chemical industry. Linear programming and other mathematical intensive solutions alleviated the problem to some extent. However, predictive analytics from AI that uses historical data to create real-time, adaptive models is now used extensively to combat this issue. Firms now just input data of existing supply chains, and an AI code uses it to find the most efficient combination for the future.  

Facilitating the creation of new products

People tried and tested different permutations and combinations of potential new products molecules manually in earlier times. Needless to say, the process was extremely slow and cumbersome. Today, this process is carried out with AI and the impressive computing power at the disposal of modern-day machines. Many complex molecules are created and evaluated for potency as future products in a time-efficient manner at lower costs and staffing expenses. The Dow chemical company has implemented this same process to great effect.

Industry 4.0Enabling effective maintenance

Maintenance of machinery has always been an integral part of the chemical industry. Effective maintenance can reduce downtime and improve the life of expensive machines used in the industry. Average downtimes of chemical plants lead to a production loss of 21 days. This process has been made more efficient using advanced maintenance analytics, reducing machine downtimes by 30% to 50% and extending machine life by 20% to 40%. Real-time access to data from various parts of the production process, using IoT, also gives shop floor managers greater control over the production process. It ensures localized problems are fixed in the least possible time, minimizing process downtime.

Improved Supply Chain Management

Machine learning algorithms enable efficient inventory management by using historical data on market behavior. Predictive models are created using this data to prevent unexpected fluctuations in raw material prices. Such algorithms increase accuracy as time passes, and a more extensive data set is available for analysis. Supply chain management for various raw materials is also being automated and adjusted for complex calculations like space for transportation, which would have been very time-consuming in the earlier days. 

Quality management

  1. Automating various processes in the chemical industry has helped reduce the number of recalls and quality audits. Accuracy in product formulation due to automation is making the work process smoother and quality control more manageable. 
  2. Productivity enhancement
  3. Chemical plants and factories would generate large quantities of data during their operations; however, the data is not used to its full potential
Advanced analytics of data and its visualization using tools like Power BI and tableau are now enabling managers to deploy error detection and correction techniques to benefit significantly from this information. A 2017 McKinsey report gives the example of a leading polyurethane maker, which, using analytics tools, increased the quantity of processed data and, as a result, increased its output by 10%.

Failure Mitigation

Digital twins of the employed process are now created and overloaded to forecast weak spots that can be rectified in the real-world set-up to prevent any actual breakdowns before they occur and cause problems like delays and injuries.

Digitisation

Storing data in the digital domain makes it much easier to process, reducing the storage space and the carbon footprint. The chemical industry is now using digital technologies like big data to generate more insights into the efficiency of various industry techniques. It empowers ground-level executives to make better, quicker decisions paramount in industries as dynamic as the chemical industry.

Conclusion

The chemical industry has made significant progress in the adoption of industry 4.0. BASF is a recent example that leveraged data analytics for process management and control. It completely automated their smart plant in Kaiserslautern to an impressive effect. Case studies like that of BASF are growing ever more commonplace in recent times. Brands across the spectrum are moving to adopt technology-centric solutions to improve efficiency in their process, and the chemical industry is not far behind. The industry’s future now knocks at our doorstep. Although, like every other change in the status quo, Industry 4.0 brings its share of unique challenges, its demonstrated success justifies the associated problems.  

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