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Driving success in manufacturing data analytics

By our Editorial Team

A review of the Manufacturing Leadership Forum taking place in Antwerp, Belgium, with a focus on the potential of analytics

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A review of the Manufacturing Leadership Forum taking place in Antwerp, Belgium, with a focus on the potential of analytics in chemicals manufacturing and the challenges of digital transformation.

The chemicals manufacturing industry has long gathered vast amounts of data. Data historians alone in plants across the world hold data that would have been unimaginable before – or even at the start of – the computerization of industry (commonly referred to as the third industrial revolution). However, it is only fairly recently that the value of those data has started to be fully unlocked and harnessed. Considered the fourth industrial revolution, or ‘Industry 4.0’, the digitization of manufacturing is now picking up speed and companies are starting to realise the promise that it brings: higher quality products, produced more efficiently, more ‘in-spec’ and more economically; and with lower operational risk and better process safety.

The Manufacturing Leadership Forum* took place at the end of November 2018 in Antwerp, Belgium. Attended by delegates from world-leading companies in the chemicals manufacturing space, such as Albemarle, BASF, Cargill, Dow, DSM, EOC, Huntsman and Shell, the Forum provided an opportunity to hear from globally-recognised leaders in driving success in manufacturing analytics.

Lloyd Colegrove, Data Services Director, Fundamental Problem Solving Director at The Dow Chemical Company, provided an overview of his own company’s journey into data analytics. Started in the early 2000s, Dow Chemical was a leading adopter of this technology, and is now benefiting greatly from the investments made.

“The key challenge is how to translate data into insights,” Colegrove explained. “We don’t just want to see what has happened and why – but to monitor what is happening now, in real time and in context – and then to predict what is going to happen, so problems can be avoided. Solving the problem after it happens is too late.”

This is, of course, the ultimate goal of manufacturing analytics – to avoid potential problems altogether by detecting early signals and fixing any anomalies before they impact products or processes. But far from being a mythical manufacturing holy grail, this goal is now well within the reach of any company adopting manufacturing analytics and implementing it properly across their facilities.

Jonathan Alexander, Operations Engineer at Albemarle, has seen this transformation first hand, having driven his own company’s digital transformation in the past few years.

“My Monday mornings used to be spent solving all the problems that happened over the weekend,” he explained. “I would fix them, but the same problems would keep coming up… it’s the same thing that happens in all manufacturing plants at all companies all over the world. I needed to figure out how to prevent them from happening again.”

Alexander’s initial objective was to prevent defects in production by simply centring his plant’s processes and reducing variation, to ensure he was meeting his customers’ requirements. By simplifying the plants’ ‘big data’ into a simple red/orange/green dashboard that was intuitive and simple to use, he enabled the plant operators to correct problems in real time (before violating product specifications). The analytics platform includes flowcharts and drop-down lists – built in collaboration with engineers and experienced operators – to help with data-driven decision-making. This has not only achieved the original goal of improving the quality of product under manufacture, but it has also led to remarkable reductions in down-time, resulting in greater efficiencies and lower costs. Operators’ roles have been up-skilled, making them more valuable to the company and freeing the engineers to work on ‘bigger picture’ challenges that will benefit Albemarle. Alexander has even been able to leverage Albemarle’s new real-time analytics capabilities to help the company to secure new business, as it is now able to produce high-purity products within tighter specifications, adding to customer satisfaction.

“Through this exercise, we’ve increased productivity and reliability, improved product quality, and grown our process knowledge,” declared Alexander. “We’ve rolled it out across multiple plants at multiple sites, and it continues to add value wherever we use it… the possibilities are endless.”

Jim Petrusich, of Northwest Analytics, expanded on those possibilities with an explanation of how manufacturing analytics can enhance process safety. Calling on recent disasters (or near-disasters) in the chemicals manufacturing industry for examples, he pointed out that in every case the workers didn’t have the real-time data they needed to make the right decisions that could have avoided tragic loss of life.

“Manufacturing analytics creates a safety umbrella – real-time monitoring of key process safety parameters is critical,” Petrusich explained. “It can provide immediate return on investment in terms of loss of life, loss of business, litigation, plant assets, regulation, the environment and more. With better process control and fewer unplanned shutdowns, we also have fewer start-ups – where safety risks are highest – and more control throughout each stage of start-up.”

Real-time, analytics-based monitoring offers an early warning system that not only protects plant assets and product quality – it also protects the people working at those plants. Manufacturing analytics can detect signals that can be understood and put into context, to allow preventative measures to be developed and implemented.

It’s not just about the numbers, but insight into what they mean,” added Dow Chemical’s Eric van den Heuval, in his presentation on Driving Industry 4.0 Success. “Technology is an enabler, not a goal… so it’s important to apply the right technology where it brings the most value.”

However, nothing that’s worth having comes easily. Michael Guilfoyle, Director of Research at ARC Advisory Group (a leading industry analyst group in the manufacturing space) acknowledged that the road to digital transformation can be difficult.

“It requires the rethinking of fundamental pillars, from the technology driving the operation to transparency between operations and customers,” he explained. “Digital transformation makes processes look simple, but involves complex architecture that needs extensive planning.”

Guilfoyle stressed the importance of engaging the workforce in the transformation from the start, and emphasized the importance of people in achieving success. However, as more people enter the process, more culture change needs to be managed, and asking people to work in a fundamentally different way will incur resistance.

Dow Chemical’s Lloyd Colegrove agreed, adding “The biggest challenge is convincing others of the need for change.”

Asking people to embrace change is always difficult. Fortunately, Rory Masureik, a change management consultant specializing in manufacturing excellence (formerly of Johnson Matthey), was on hand to provide some invaluable advice.

“One of the most common reasons for failure in attempts to adopt digitalization is derailment due to forces from the board room,” he said. “Successful manufacturing analytic transformation requires executive support, driving cultural change.”

Unlike many major changes in an organization, the thrust for digitalization – and manufacturing analytics – often comes from operations, rather than the boardroom, Masureik explained. This is because, in most companies, it is the process engineers who will first realise the benefits of this technology, and need to make a case for change to their upper management. While this might seem straightforward, it often goes wrong due to a simple a lack of understanding.

“Most C-suite executives don’t have an appreciation of process technology,” he pointed out. “They work in an enterprise domain – not an operations domain – and these very different environments and working practices require very different solutions. But if you can make your executives understand why this is so important, then you are likely to obtain the resources to proceed.”

The key to this, says Masureik, lies in speaking their language – understanding your company’s priorities, and tying the benefits of manufacturing analytics to those priorities, in order to secure executive support. Once C-suite executives understand that it is vital to start on a digitization journey – and how manufacturing analytics are foundational to that journey – they can ensure that the strategy achieves consensus across the company, including the establishment of a transformation programme with appropriate skills, resources and governance.

So is it worth it? Yes, absolutely! Analytics-driven businesses are the future, and any companies not embracing this change will fall behind as their competitors do things better and faster. Dow Chemical, which has installed manufacturing analytics in more than 180 plants globally, has estimated a return on investment of more than $1 million per plant, each and every year.

“There are too many benefits to not go down this road,” commented ARC Group’s Michael Guilfoyle.

 “Where are your competitors?” demanded Albemarle’s Jonathan Alexander. “How quickly do you need to do this?”

Alexander answered his own question with a quote commonly attributed to a Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”

Companies like Dow started on this transformation in the last decade. These early adopters have paved the way, but even those only just starting to embrace digitization and manufacturing analytics are at the start of the curve. It’s the future of the chemical industry, and not too late to do it. But you must do it, and the sooner you start on this transformation the more competitive you are going to be.

*The Manufacturing Leadership Forum is sponsored by Northwest Analytics (NWA), an industry leader in delivering Industry 4.0 manufacturing analytics and intelligence platforms to enable leading manufacturers to effectively manage and improve plant processes across their enterprises and supply chains.

Tara Sybrant, Marketing Director at Northwest Analytics Inc, 111 SW Fifth Avenue, Suite 800, Portland, OR 97204-3606 USA
T: +1 503 224 7727, extension 112