Digitalisation drive in the chemical industry
Recently, I moderated a roundtable organised by Refining &
Petrochemicals Middle East on ‘Digitalisation as a Key Enabler in Chemical Plants of the Future’, in Dubai.
The roundtable was attended by Ali Vezvaei, president and CEO, Bilfinger Middle East; Christian Cravedi, senior vice president, IMEA hub BU manager, oil, gas and chemicals, ABB; Fadi Matar, director, public affairs and government affairs, India, Middle East, Africa and Turkey, Dow Chemical; Fady Sleiman, global chief digital officer, Petrofac; Imre Csoti, vice president, onshore operations, MENA, Mcdermott; Ishaq Mohamed Al-sarhni, general manager – engineering, Duqm Refinery; and Naji Masri, head of strategy and controlling, Middle East, BASF.
The roundtable discussed the themes of the ‘Key Role that Digitalisation Plays in the Design, Engineering, Construction and Commissioning of a Chemical Plant’, ‘How does digitalisation optimise operational efficiency in a chemical plant?’, and ‘Creating a Sustainable, Hse-compliant, Volatility-manageable and Profitable Chemical Plant, Using Digitalisation Solutions’.
At the roundtable, while Christian Cravedi explained why the role of digitalisation is critical in complex chemical projects, Fadi Matar talked about the challenges faced by the Middle Eastern chemical companies in digital transformation in their projects. Ali Vezvaei elaborated on the key changes that digitalisation can bring in the mega projects in the chemical industry. Imre Csoti described the advantages of digitalisation in the management of mega projects. While Fady Sleiman gave an overview of the latest trends in digitalisation, Ishaq Mohamed Al-sarhni explained how digitalisation can help in the smart management of engineering challenges in mega projects. Naji Masri portrayed the acumen, resourcefulness and involvement of the Middle Eastern chemical industry professionals in the digital transformation.
One of the key advantages of digitalisation is knowledge management. Knowledge management is something that everybody has struggled with in the past. How do you take what is in the brains of experienced people and get it in to the minds of younger employees? With the developments in digital technologies, chemical industry can actually do a good job on this front. Digitalisation is the best tool to make the transition of knowledge from highly experienced operators to the new millennials.
Digitalisation, and the convergence of information technology and operational technology can unlock a lot of opportunities during the operations phase of a chemical plant. Digitalisation could also be used for further improving safety, productivity and energy efficiency, and to drive the overall equipment effectiveness of production in chemical plants to get enhanced uptime and reduced downtime.
It is projected that in the global chemical industry, annually $20bn is lost because of downtime. If something wrong is going on a plant, the project managers can immediately retrieve the data using digitalisation tools for the vendor who has supplied the particular instrument in fault and advise the operators what parameter is to be changed and that integration can be done with a manual intervention. Data is transferred digitally but a human element with knowledge about the system can intervene with it immediately.
Currently, many organisations are spending more money on software than hardware. Digitalisation solutions are redefining how an enterprise collaborate with its suppliers and customers. These solutions empower the industry to improve business performance and profitability through the plant lifecycle. Realtime applications, truly integrated approach and powerful simulation tools offered by digitalisation solutions ensure optimised production, enhanced decision-making power and improved designs. Integrated simulation environment provided by digitalisation solutions enables businesses to meet challenges of today and tomorrow. Effective use of these solutions is fast becoming a ‘normal’ in the worldwide chemical industry landscape for better manufacturing and business practices, as well as decisionmaking processes.
The Middle Eastern chemical industry is at the beginning stage of the digital transformation journey. It is clear that the digitalisation drive depends a lot on external elements like governance and cost element rather than the availability of technology because state-of the-art technologies are available in the region. What is evolving is the strategy to find out the best way of doing things through digitalisation in the chemical industry.