By necessity – and within reason – chemical and petroleum organizations have been early adopters of technology, with a primary focus on stability and costs. This asset- and people-intensive industry faces some unique challenges, and an innovative and flexible mindset helps these organizations tackle critical areas like:
How to adapt quickly to changing circumstances while still ensuring business continuity
The ever-present need for operational excellence, including cost control, stability and personnel safety
The need to rise above the commoditization of products and deliver differentiation
An increasing focus on sustainability within the industry
Adaptability and business continuity
As we all deal with an unprecedented amount of disruption, there are strategies that this industry can use to adapt to changing circumstances, including maximizing operational efficiencies and controlling costs. For example, predictive maintenance alone can reduce costs by 15% – 20%, help you improve asset availability by 20%1 and extend the lives of machines by years. If production unexpectedly slows, planned maintenance schedules can be revised to take advantage of downtime while still accomplishing key objectives. With this more flexible approach to operations, organizations are better positioned to ensure business continuity.
Meet the demand for differentiation
Next, let’s look at what makes the organization fundamentally tick. When one product is indistinguishable from another, companies have to find ways to differentiate their offerings. This is particularly true when the end consumer has a few degrees of separation from the companies, with B2B entities in between. Because the commoditization of chemical and petroleum products can reduce prices and impact the corporate bottom line, industry leaders know that technology can help them rise above the noise and deliver offerings that stand out. For example, many companies deliver a more personalized experience by creating customized versions of their products, each with their own unique specifications. Case in point: an industrial paint manufacturer may deliver very different types of paint in terms of both finish and color to two different consumer-facing companies.
The process of manufacturing similar – yet different – products could be a scenario for inefficiency. However, with AI-powered manufacturing and connected assets, it’s currently feasible to manage any operational adjustments to achieve a product specification in a resilient and flexible manner. That means the ability to optimize and sweat the assets so that the right product with the right specifications is delivered each and every time.
Use technology to keep workers safer
The same data insights that help you optimally operate assets and avoid downtime can also help you ensure the safety of personnel, as well as achieve sustainability goals within the process environment. That’s because this industry often requires employees to perform activities in what could quickly escalate into a hazardous environment. However, more advanced technologies like AI and machine learning mean that many of the perilous tasks that humans once performed can now be automated, augmented or completed using drones, robotics or other remotely controlled devices.
Use of insights from connected assets and previously untapped data sources, such as weather, vehicle telematics, visual feeds and drone-based inspections also allow companies to more reliably predict when it’s safer to check equipment, perform maintenance or address other field-related issues. Not only does this proactively provide a safer working environment, it also minimizes fines and administrative issues that affect a company’s revenue.
Lastly, touchless, remote technologies will also be increasingly deployed to help maintain new social distancing norms and keep workers safer.
Sustainability is no longer optional
While all industries are under increasing pressure to be responsible corporate entities, none are more closely monitored than the chemical and petroleum industry. Regulations, oversight and sustainability goals mean that many companies are actively looking to technology to help address issues, decrease environmental harm, and create more efficient operations.
One way to improve the manufacturing process is to improve product quality and yield. Among other things, it also means reducing waste, optimizing energy and minimizing environmental impact. AI-powered manufacturing can drive up to 30% yield improvements and 15% waste reduction.1 Not only is this better for the environment, it’s also critical to a company’s bottom line.
Ensure efficient and reliable equipment operations
Insights from connected assets and untapped data sources are critical to understanding the preventive, predictive, and prescriptive actions needed to maintain equipment, optimize performance, and avoid downtime. Fortunately, IBM possesses the essential combination of software, services, and industry expertise to build intelligent workflows that respond to rapidly changing conditions. Wherever you are in your digital journey, we will partner with you to deliver the AI-powered insights and consultative services required for more resilient business operations. We invite you to speak with one of our industry experts.
About the author: Dr. Krishnan, who holds a doctorate in Chemical Engineering, is responsible for delivering innovative/complex solutions in the process industry. His expertise includes manufacturing execution systems, operational excellence, supply chain optimization, maintenance and reliability transformation, information integration, performance analytics and complex project management. His primary industry focus is around chemicals, petrochemicals and refining. Prior to joining IBM, Dr. Krishnan worked for organizations such as AspenTech, Invensys and Accenture. He has worked with multiple clients in this industry for over 25 years across all geographies. Connect with Dr. Kirshnan on LinkedIn.