How Can Chemical Producers Realize Industry 4.0 Benefits Today?

October 31, 2017

During my presentation at the annual Global ManuChem Strategies 2017 conference in Berlin, I positioned the “connected economy” and how technology can link people, business processes, organizations and assets to create value. This was AspenTech’s first time at the conference, a high-level forum focused on specialty chemicals manufacturing, spanning both operations and maintenance.


My presentation included a discussion of how the intersection of models, data and analytics can deliver Industry 4.0 benefits today, and it also highlighted several “winners” who have already realized tangible business benefits. Most importantly, the presentation and several subsequent delegate conversations explored why a solid value framework is required to guide investment decisions for chemical producers in these rapidly evolving technologies.


The winners are those organizations that have bought into a long-term, model-based approach to process and asset optimization. AspenTech has modeled countless business processes over its 35 years’ experience and has created a true value framework, which serves as the intersection between a customer’s business initiatives and its business processes.


By mapping these business initiatives to business processes, we can then monetize the intersection. Further, we can validate this work against work done with similar customers, whether that’s segmented by industry, sub-industry, process and/or size. Once we have identified a “prize,” we can then start looking at technical solutions that will support this initiative and validate the returns.


Another important factor is to understand the maturity and readiness of an organization and its people, and a good technical solution is part of the success criteria. At AspenTech we have created a best practice model to support and understand the readiness of our customers and the steps required to move forward and up the maturity curve. In some cases this can be as simple as awareness or training, or it can include delivering a strategy or a new solution to solve a problem.


It is worth touching on the importance of data to this approach. The huge volume of data available to organizations today is now forming an integral part of the decision-making process. Data and analytics capabilities have advanced considerably in recent years and are revolutionizing many different industries, including specialty chemicals.


The value to an organization is being able to connect the data threads and monetize the intersections. As the McKinsey Global Institute noted in its report The Age of Analytics: Competing in a Data-Driven World, “Data and analytics have even greater potential to create value. Organizations that are able to harness these capabilities effectively will be able to create significant value and differentiate themselves.”


Analytics, as a representation of the data, tell chemical producers what to measure and what is important to take the business to the next level. The intersection of modeling, data and analytics solutions is now reaching the market as part of Industry 4.0, whereby complex data from many sources is made understandable so manufacturers can use it in their decision-making to optimize operations, maintenance and even supply chain business processes.


Asset optimization, the next frontier for the process industries, provides a comprehensive approach to optimizing production assets across the whole asset lifecycle — design, operation and maintenance — to drive the highest possible financial return from assets over their lifecycle by breaking down traditional functional silos and harnessing synergies. Models, data and analytics will form the foundation of asset optimization.


Above all, it is vitally important to have both a value framework and a clear path to increasing maturity. Technology is advancing more rapidly than our ability to adopt it effectively. Producers need to focus on connecting technology to business processes and people to guide investment decisions and maximize value. 


If they do this, I’ll have some new additions to my “winners” slide at Global ManuChem Strategies 2018!

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