For chemical companies, COVID-19 has presented a range of challenges. But it has also shown that new and efficient ways of operating plants and assets are possible—and highlighted the need to use technology to further improve operations in the future.
As they plan for that future, chemical companies should focus technology initiatives on three key activities:
Fully leveraging today’s technology to support new ways of working
Building out the automation of processes in plants
However, the wide variety of systems used in different plants presents a key challenge to technology initiatives. Companies need to take a differentiated approach to each plant, rather than simply push forward across the board with one-size-fits-all efforts. To do so, they need to find the “sweet spots” for investing in improvements—areas where changes are likely to create the most value for the money in each plant.
This can be done by weighing two key factors:
The remaining lifecycle of the plant
Helps determine what level of investment makes sense in light of the expected payback time.
The maturity of the installed automation
Helps determine the improvements that will be needed to achieve the next level of performance.
Using an analysis combining these two factors, companies can then tailor and prioritize their transformation efforts to have the greatest impact.
At the same time, these efforts should be part of a broader programmatic approach that looks beyond the traditional fragmented technology initiatives. This will need to include the proven elements of any effective program—clear targets, sound governance, the ability to measure and track value, and so forth. But it will also need to encompass a range of key technologies, such as digital twins, predefined automation tools, data science platforms and cloud-based data lakes, among others.
Because chemical companies often have hundreds of plants and sites, this kind of structured, programmatic approach will be critical to avoiding the ongoing fragmentation of systems, processes and effort. And it will be key to taking plants to the next level of performance.