Key Requirements for Digital Transformation in the Chemical Industry

Key Requirements for Digital Transformation in the Chemical Industry

Jane Arnold, Head of Global Process Control Technology, Covestro

Jane Arnold, Head of Global Process Control Technology, Covestro

The chemical process industry could significantly benefit from embracing new technologies. If the improvements are implemented in a sustainable way then companies will maintain a competitive advantage by improving safety, energy usage, and throughput all while driving down costs. To that end, organizations require more than just implementing software. To be successful, companies must consider comprehensive employee participation in order to have that software provide value and become sustainable. Software developers must captivate end users and involve them in the solutions to pique their interest with the user experience. If they do so, users will embrace these technologies and adoption will last, resulting in an improved bottom line for the company, achievement of mission-critical business objectives, and increased employee satisfaction.

Why Co-wnership is so Critical

I am often asked, “How do you make your solutions sustainable”? This question is the most critical of all in reference to digitalization in manufacturing. I have spent the last 30 years in technology and have first-hand experience about what works. Most companies have a change management program when something new is rolled out. What is often missed is what happens afterwards. Anyone who has worked in manufacturing knows that a top-down push often does not last. The employees will accept the change, for as long as necessary. They know that management will soon be distracted by the next initiative, and the last one will disappear from view and will no longer be their problem. This wait-ignore-resist cycle must be stopped in order to fully benefit from digital transformation.

"Take feedback from the end-users seriously and whenever possible build it into your long-term solution. This will reward you with more ideas and, ultimately, sustainable success"

I have many instances in my past where I wrote new software for operations in the form of advanced process control. At first, the operators did not want to change anything about their unit. I quickly learned that sitting and talking to the operator day after day about what needs improving led to a development of trust. I was accepted and they believed that I really did want to make their jobs better through software. As new solutions were developed, I would test it with them and make adjustments based on their recommendations. We owned the solution together. I made sure that they knew they could always turn it off and that they were in complete control. I only asked that they tell me why so I had the opportunity to make it better. Soon, I started getting calls if something did not work as expected. They wanted the solutions and they wanted them to be sustainable because they were convinced it improved their ability to work and achieve better outcomes. The final result was a fully automated production unit with lower energy usage, efficient raw material use, and higher throughput.

Key Steps for Scaling and Sustaining Transformative Technologies

Today, I am the one in top management wanting to roll out new solutions. Ironically, my challenge now is to get that same ownership with the end-user employees that I cultivated with those one-on-one relationships. Now, I must answer the same question through a much broader lens: How do we make these advanced technologies sustainable on a global scale? We are no longer talking about one control scheme and one unit at a time, but globally across Covestro’s 37 chemical manufacturing sites and 100+ operating units. There are three key lessons I have learned:

• Start with something that the end-users already know and use regularly. This makes changes immediately understandable and therefore, easier to accept. At Covestro, we use specific historian software in day-to-day operations in production. We have had this system for over 15 years, and it is a stable platform. We started by exploring what else we could do with that software and built an asset framework library. My team created templates that allow us to do instantaneous comparisons between the current performances of the equipment with the expected performance, giving end-users at-a-glance visualization of instrument, asset, or unit health. We even added quick links into self-service analytics and machine learning for a holistic technical solution.

• Talk to the people closest to the process, such as operators, maintenance, and engineers. As we developed our first ideas, we sought out early adopters. These future end-users gave critical feedback to our platform that we incorporated into the solution. We also did a pilot rollout in the MDI plant at our Caojing site in China. Here, we spent a lot of time with end-users collecting feedback and writing roles and responsibilities, including work flow processes that made the most sense to them. Currently, we are using these documents as our blueprint at other sites but are making them flexible. Every unit at every site has a different culture, and things will be slightly different. The nuances are important. If your solution is rigid, so too will be your end-users.

• Have champions at each location who will lead the site through the transformation. A champion must be individuals people know and trust, that are local to the organization, and are also an advocate for digitalization. These people will be the face of the solution for the site and are critical for feedback.

There is one last point I want to make and, frankly, it is the most critical thing to do. Listen. Take feedback from the end-users seriously and whenever possible build it into your long-term solution. This will reward you with more ideas and, ultimately, sustainable success.

Weekly Brief

Read Also

Heralding a New Era in Machining

Heralding a New Era in Machining

Prof. Dr. Fahrettin Ozturk, Executive VP / Manufacturing, Turkish Aerospace Industries, Inc., Ankara, Türkiye
What's ahead for beverage and food can manufacturing?

What's ahead for beverage and food can manufacturing?

Jenica Eisenbach, PPG Global Technical Service Director, Packaging Coatings
Electrification of the Manufacturing Supply Chain Is Here - Get on Board or Get Left Behind

Electrification of the Manufacturing Supply Chain Is Here - Get on Board or Get Left Behind

Pranav Padgaonkar, vice president, GEP, a leading provider of procurement and supply chain solutions to Fortune 500 companies.
Why Buy Nitrogen Gas When You Can Make It!

Why Buy Nitrogen Gas When You Can Make It!

Phil Green, Market Development Manager - Industrial Gas Generation, Gas Separation and Filtration Division EMEA, Parker Hannifin Manufacturing Limited, United Kingdom
The Continuous Journey of Kaizening Amidst Turbulent Market Conditions

The Continuous Journey of Kaizening Amidst Turbulent Market Conditions

Mac Sullivan, Head of Technology and Digital Promotion, NNR Global Logistics (USA) And Sean Tang, Business and Trade Consultant, NNR Global Logistics (USA)
The Evolution of Automotive Seating

The Evolution of Automotive Seating

Mark Sutton, VP Engineering APAC, Adient