Rise of the smart factory: Implications for the chemical industry

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Categories: Chemicals, ERP
March 27, 2018
ERP solution

The connected smart factory provides opportunities in the chemical industry to improve operations, safety, and supply chain management.

The chemical industry is poised to leverage the smart factory to improve supply chain efficiency, operational efficacy, and add incremental revenue.

As seen in the recent post, Rise of the Smart Factory: Evolving at the Speed of Business, we are in the midst of a digital industrial revolution transforming manufacturing through new tools that allow for better insights, improved safety, and improved operations.

Here is a closer look at the opportunities and challenges facing chemical manufacturers as they leverage smart technologies.

Opportunities abound

Smart factories allow companies to improve operations and drive growth in several key ways.

  • Improved Productivity. Predictive asset management tools, taking data from connected objects, and using virtual monitoring can improve quality and reduce downtime. For example, sensors embedded on turbines, extruders, and compressors provide continuous data that can identify patterns and detect issues. Messages sent from these sensors can help operators order equipment, authorize repairs, and avert breakdowns.
  • Energy Management. Energy costs can be lowered and alternative sources considered with smart management tools embedded in operations and reporting that allows for better decisions about energy use and purchasing.
  • Better R&D Planning. Research and development investments are essential for chemical companies. With the use of big data and analytics, companies can better predict the outcomes of new R&D investments, assess properties of available materials, and consider new combinations.
  • Process Management. No longer do operators need to check and record readings on walls of controllers in order to make adjustments to plant operations. Connected systems today provide this data dynamically and in real time to employees, allowing them to make decisions quickly and with less time spent collecting and interpreting available data.
  • Production Simulation. Virtual reality and 3D visualizations let companies train operators and maintenance crews safely and accurately using simulators. Trainees can experience situations through virtual walkthroughs, handling of equipment and materials, and facing safety issues.
  • Supply Chain Improvements. Connected systems allow for companies to boost visibility throughout the supply chain that can impact several areas. Analytics tools, for example, help companies predict demand and align supply chains and manufacturing accordingly. When products are in transit, sensors can provide companies and their customers with minute-by-minute information on location as well as condition, ensuring that products remain within desired temperature or pressure ranges.
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Connected chemical factories allow employees to access performance and maintenance information in real time.

Considerations for chemical industry

With the myriad benefits of connected factories available come several challenges for companies. These include:

  • Security. Control systems, data, and physical locations require enhanced security to ensure that products and people are safe. As factory operations become more digital, companies need to ensure that products used to measure, store, and interpret data are protected from cyber threats.
  • Infrastructure. Investments in smart factory components mean having a connected infrastructure, requiring companies to work closely with equipment manufacturers, product suppliers, and system vendors to ensure that all components have the capabilities necessary for effective and efficient operations.
  • System Integration. The dynamic factory needs tools, from enterprise resource planning (ERP) to business intelligence to back-office functions, that can pool the data, insights, and reporting necessary to leverage the technologies available today and in the near future.

At NexTec Group, we offer guidance and insights for companies looking to find an ERP solution that maximizes their smart factory investments. Download the NexTec Corporate Brochure to learn how NexTec works with top vendors and products like SageX3 to identify the right solutions for our chemical industry clients.