Chemical manufacturing is at the root of all other manufacturing activity. It is energy-intensive, costly and has a high carbon footprint, with petrochemicals the highest of any sector. By 2030 the global demand for food and water will have increased by 40% from current levels and the world will need 50% more primary energy. These challenges sit alongside a commitment to tackle climate change through decarbonisation. They also present enormous business opportunities that can only be embraced by manufacturing nations with strong and competitive chemical and chemistry-using industries. Chemical companies are constantly seeking new formulas for materials that meet their customers’ needs but reduce the carbon output, such as bioplastics.
Digital transformation and its effect on workers
As the division of labour between employees and “machines” is being redefined by digitalisation, it has implications for the working environment, work organisation and health & safety. Examples include mobile working, flexible hours, data protection and performance monitoring. The physical introduction of new technologies and new software into production is a key component – so the tracking ability of manufacturing execution systems will be at the heart of this.
As chemical manufacture digitises further, several benefits can be realised with the help of MES. Within Data Collection, the warn and prevent controls can avoid over-production, and can warn of operations that start out of sequence. Batch and volume controls can be aggregated and viewed.
Chemical manufacture is arguably the biggest carbon emitter in industry. But the industry demands a fair and balanced transition towards decarbonisation. It is seeking options that enable companies to recover and re-use chemical components or to use more sustainable starting materials, such as biomass and organic waste. And industrial biotechnology is a key advance in this area.
Such changes make chemical manufacturing more complex with more stock variation, making MES vital in organising complex formulations and varying batch sizes.
Innovation in chemical processes
There is pressure to perfect new refining and manufacturing processes. Polymer recycling has become big business and recycling hubs are growing in number. Other examples include bio-ethylene oxide facilities, reducing the use of hazardous chemicals in these processes, formulations for making plastic from seaweed that recycles into organic waste – all help strengthen modern advanced supply chains. With new, greener materials and formulations and multiple international regulations, chemicals are becoming more complex. Features like Definition Management, Scheduling and Execution Management within MES help automate the running of such complex requirements.
People, technology and actionable information
Productivity can only be converted from the correct data. Transforming data into actionable information requires the right technologies and the right people. These technologies include systems with analytical and visualisation capabilities that enable predictive manufacturing, technical problem solving, process design and hazard analysis, environmental impact mitigation as well as energy efficiency and safety.
As with Innovation in the processes (above), the amount of and type of data being created now is increasing the complexity of chemicals manufacture. A big, robust and multi-featured MES solution will measure the right data in the right place and reveal wastage, excess stock, staff and capex utilisation, and more.
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