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Conditions to become more challenging for chemical companies, warns ABB


July 12, 2018  


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Conditions over the next decade are likely to become more challenging with considerable uncertainty and disparity of performance throughout the chemical industry, warns ABB in the first of a two-part white paper launched today on Transforming Chemical Operations Through Technology.

The white paper points to conditions that now show the chemical industry is at an important stage of transformation and explores the external and internal challenges which can be addressed through digitalization.

“The complex nature of chemical production renders optimal decision-making particularly difficult,” explains Dr. Zied M. Ouertani, Digital Lead, Chemicals and Refining for ABB’s Industrial Automation Oil Gas and Chemicals Business Unit. “The number of variables to process for maximum performance are enormous. In addition to volatile costs and prices, chemicals can be made in many ways to achieve the same output. Challenges also vary by region. For example, plants in emerging markets must address a skillset gap whereas those in mature ones need to address an exodus of retiring talent.

The paper suggests that in an uncertain macroeconomic environment and an industry with significant production and geography-related complexity, chemical manufacturers would be wise to invest in digital technologies and advanced analytics to help them harness their data for maximum performance and thrive despite the challenges they face.

“It’s easy to draw down data using digital technologies, but data for data sake is of no use to anyone,” says Dr. Ouertani. “The true benefits are only realized when the technology can filter that data to make it useful in the boardroom and we are now at a tipping point where that has become possible.”

ABB goes on to suggest that leaders must also move quickly or risk being surpassed by competitors who embrace the full potential of digitization to transform operations at the device, process, plant and enterprise level.

“Digitalization, done well, allows chemical companies to get a highly granular view of their assets which, when viewed in conjunction with data from more traditional business systems, can generate quicker and better insights to drive competitive advantage,” he says. “But to benefit significantly from the potential offered, companies will need to embrace digitalization on a bigger, much more holistic scale encompassing end-to-end processes throughout plants and across the supply chain – not just in isolated pockets of change.”