It would be hard not to have noticed the shift towards specialty chemicals. More and more, companies that have traditionally been focused on bulk and intermediate chemicals are ramping up their margins by adding specialty chemicals to their portfolios. While there is some continuous processing in the front end of many batch processes, it’s primarily a batch business. So how do you successfully merge batch into your existing operations? Start at the bottom and work your way up.
The infrastructure supporting manufacturing operations in bulk chemicals has become pretty robust. The plants tend to be well instrumented and monitored. Sure, there are improvements to be made but when you compare the infrastructure prevalent in continuous plants with that of batch plants, you might find a pretty substantial gap.
Create the Digital Thread
Batch processing requires different data structures, diagnostic procedures, process validation processes and a host of other affected workflows. With as many as 50% of batch plants still operating from paper-based procedures, going digital is probably a pretty good starting point. Procedural automation and enterprise recipe management are other key aspects. Without that infrastructure, the organization simply will not have the agility to compete. New product introduction moves like cold molasses. Problem solving is plodding. Quality metrics will wiggle like a flag in a stiff breeze.
In many acquisition situations there’s also the potential issue of rationalizing the IT/OT stack and process historians are a favorite target for that discussion. The conversation usually starts with trying to decide on one vendor. You can swap out one vendor’s historian for another but that’s expensive, risky, and frankly, unnecessary, and it only solves part of the problem.
There’s a lot to be done to successfully integrate batch into your day-to-day operations and the stakes are high.
More and more, companies will compete on the basis of the data they have access to and how well they make data-driven decisions. The organization that owns or has access to the most comprehensive and highest-quality data, integrates more data sources best, analyzes data, and knows how to use those insights for real-time decisions will have a big competitive advantage.
Too right! We need to consolidate and share information with equipment specialists, process engineers, production engineers, environmental… and so on. That’s one of the roles for manufacturing systems like MES but with a broader base of users than ever before. Through the MES we serve up the data for the stakeholders that they need to inform their points-of-view that contribute to better decisions.
Those multiple points-of-view should also be supported by appropriate analytics. This is not a place for a one trick pony. We need access to rigorous, empirical and procedural models along with the data. We need to improve our ability to consider the supply chain, the production capability, environmental compliance, costs, and asset effectiveness in our decisions.
There’s a great resource to help you on this journey. The Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition is advocating a shared platform and open marketplace to serve these needs in a cooperative environment that can’t be hijacked by vendors. I’m a big fan of the approach. I think it’s a big chunk of the next generation MES architecture in the making. It has the potential to better reflect the various points-of-view across the organization and drive better collaboration. As a side benefit, maybe it will put a damper on the silly conversation about the ERP being the next process industries’ MES system. As if.
Thoughts you care to share?