Pandemic prompted chemical sector to accelerate digital adoption: Experts

March 12, 2021

Leading experts discussed how digital technologies can help build resilience into chemical business and how better prepared are companies for future disruptions at the recent E-Conference, ‘Digital lessons from 2020: Preparing for the new normal’ held by Indian Chemical News.  The session was moderated by Pravin Prashant, Editor, ICN.

Outlining how things have changed during the pandemic, Sanath Kumar, Executive President and Whole Time Director, Gujarat Fluorochemicals says,  “It took some time to figure out what exactly should we do digitally. Understanding customer needs, information sharing, and digital improvements at the factory level are a part of this learning besides shift operations, transport of people from one place to another. In fact, it took people decades to understand the benefits and added advantage of running the operations remotely. There used to be questioned, how safe it is? However, we moved gradually from pneumatic to digital loop systems and now the wireless. We have taken it forward in many phases. ”
Kumar feels there is a big opportunity for services provides. "There is a lot of potential in the digital and a lot of work remains to be done. The factors such as safety aspects, acquisition of knowledge and its implementation will shape this sector. The onus is on both, service providers and factory owners. There are two areas where the chemical can get benefited. One is data analytics and another is data trends. The question is how well we are able to maintain and build confidence in the most economical way. We can make it safer together and develop techniques. The profitability can be definitely achieved if we work smartly. We are at 20-30% of the benchmark and are moving forward. I would like GFL to build a better-integrated system to ensure safety.”
According to Partha Sur, GM – Technology, Haldia Petrochemical, "At HPL, we were already using the digital tools in few operations. We are good at SAP in the transactions besides in the areas such as internet-based MOC, plant change, accident, the digital platforms were already there and we did it without hindrance. During pre-covid, we were moving towards rationalization and shared services. For the centralized services, technologies were assimilated and scaled up in 2016 and we did integration in 2017. Onwards we understood that we are looking at data. We remapped the entire manufacturing and did centralization of data where we connected all the manufacturing units. It took one year to assimilate and understand as it was a process in itself. Then came the pandemic, the challenge was to maintain a safe distance. We promptly moved from fingerprint to face recognition. The entire infrastructural part was addressed.”
Sur emphasizes building the right kind of infrastructure and the need for the mapping of the entire process including mapping of assets, monitoring, control valve followed by the integration. "Predictive analytics will help us in simulation tools when integrated with real-time data. Converging reality with the first principle model. From the business level, there is one priority but at the operational level, safety is a topmost priority since a lot of chemical engineering is required. AI and big data can provide can give some inputs to prepare better and improvements. We are moving towards  molecule level optimization.”
The covid-19 was a jolt to the industry, says Harendra Pandya, Joint President, Aarti Industries opines, "With respect to sustainability, we needed a better outlook. Therefore, we are here to work as partners. The combined knowledge of stakeholders and service providers will help the industry in expanding its base. The new-age digital tools such as Machine Learning can unlock huge potential.”
Calling for the creation of an index in the chemical industry to get factual data from the ground level, Pandya stresses, "We need to develop a chemical index to provide key information including how many people are in a square kilometre of a chemical factory. At least 25 square metre space is ideal for worker safety. That is vital for growth.”
Sunil Patil, Director – APJ Solution Consulting, AspenTech says, "For most of us, digital technologies have enabled critical capabilities during this turbulent time. The day starts with smartphone screens and all along most of us are using digital capabilities to run projects, operate plants and continue product development. I believe AI is the future for the industry, also called the Industrial AI hybrid model. The aim is to bring in safety, and sustainability. At AspenTech, we invest heavily in R&D and already have 100 patents in our kitty. We have a skilled team that develops hybrid simulation technologies. At the same time, we keep acquiring the newer technologies for 3D modelling, and simulations and further enhance our rich domain expertise.”