At the heart of the innovation driving 4.0 in the chemical industry is the same technology transforming manufacturing elsewhere: the concept of the IoT. While interconnected systems and smart technology are crucial to quality control in finished consumer goods, in chemical manufacturing, they’re a logical extension of both safety and efficiency.
Physical components, however, play a far greater role in the future of the chemical manufacturing industry – the need for tangible mixing, measuring, testing and sorting is far greater when crafting, say, pharmaceutical products than it would be for a hairbrush. So what will the impact of Industry 4.0 look like in the months and years to come?
Safety is paramount in chemical manufacturing, which means a clear chain of movement and storage from creation to end consumer is the best case scenario. Previously, this was achieved through the use of methods like batch numbers alone, but some smart technology is bypassing the need for potentially-fallible human intervention altogether.
Imagine a system that tracked individual containers of chemicals and gave a company a top-down view as they moved through the supply and demand chains. Imagine these systems were capable of automatically alerting decision-makers in the event of an extreme temperature shift, or even a stall in delivery. The integrity of sensitive chemicals could be better safeguarded, resulting in a more potent end product and lower potential losses.
Chemicals are a fairly exacting product out of necessity, but that doesn’t always mean that human-driven manufacturing workflows can achieve peak efficiency. Cyber-physical systems allow a level of precision that’s literally impossible to replicate through even the most skilled human hands – down to measures that simply can’t be detected with consistency using the human eye. That consistency not only produces a superior chemical product, it also helps strengthen and build chemical manufacturing brands through trustworthy output.
Without the wasted components that often fall prey to “guesswork” or a “bad batch” of mixing in the chemical industry, these cyber-physical systems also revolutionize ERP. Precise, computer-tallied measurements and volume reports allow chemical manufacturing companies to forecast their needs based on current demand, allowing lean practices room to grow and evolve.
Using a variety of different equipment, practices and methods cobbled together may work in the short term, but it isn’t a scalable answer. Industry 4.0 nods to innovations like the IoT and cyber-physical systems as the solution because they are scalable: these are systems that are capable of being upgraded, both in the digital aspect as well as the physical. Purpose-made or customized chemical manufacturing equipment can become quickly obsolete if more efficient methods are discovered, making 4.0 a safe hedge that bets on upward mobility, not industry-wide stagnation.
In fact, much like feedback from a robust network of business contacts, the interconnected features of using the IoT for chemical manufacturing make confirming best practices as easy as asking the question. With multiple data sets from multiple points of product contact available, seeing trends – and stopping problems – becomes easier by orders of magnitude with each new added component.
As research and development refines the discovery and creation of the chemicals your company produces, the greater the need to analyze and embrace an attitude of continuous improvement. The impacts of chemical Industry 4.0 highlight these goals neatly, offering to marry the innovation of the human mind and the power of a digitally-driven industry down to a granular level that rivals PPM in overall, industry-wide efficiency.