Partnering Proves Profitable

Chemical makers increasingly look for outside help to improve performance

By By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Plant-wide, company-wide and even worldwide initiatives are driving better co-operation within and among chemical processing companies and the myriad organizations in their supply chains in today's global marketplace.

In the past, such initiatives have foundered as a result of fragmented approaches and a lack of sophisticated tools — leaving behind a legacy of inaccuracy, inefficiency and missed opportunities (

Today, however, it's a different story. Firms are harnessing everything from advanced analytics to human resources (HR) management as they strive to improve coordination along the entire supply chain and transform how chemical plants operate.

"Asset management covers so many topics these days, but it's really compliance and sustainability that everyone is struggling with. If you talk with company executives, these are always in the top three," says Elinor Price, director product marketing for AspenTech, Burlington, Mass. "However, their responses vary when you ask what exactly their companies are doing in this regard. In the U.S., for example, people know what needs to be measured, but can still surprise us with how they go about doing this. Taking figures long-hand and putting them into monthly reports is still happening," she adds.

"Chemical processing is getting a bit like pharma now — for example, the need for 3–5 years of data storage and the requirement for real time monitoring," explains Price.

Sustainability implies knowledge of carbon footprints, but this isn't simple to measure. "It is important that calculations are done in the correct order: the complexity of environmental reporting involves much more than the engineer dumping results in an Excel spreadsheet. In future this process will be more dynamic as emissions trading and credits take off," Price notes.

She cites a global cement company, which is working with AspenTech on a project to look at its emissions caps from the whole supply chain perspective: the company is using differences in emissions caps from country to country to plan production across the entire company rather than on a site-wide — or even a country-wide — basis.

At Dow Chemical, Midland, Mich., one of the company's main focuses over the past decade has been to optimize its production units worldwide to achieve global improvements in performance and improve sustainability. This has involved organizational and methodological changes based on advanced process control (APC) and real time optimization (RTO) solutions. With more than 24 RTO projects now complete and 20 more underway, the company estimates it's already saved nearly $1 billion in 10 years.

"Dow began with APC on its ethylene facilities and is now focused on applying it to smaller processes. APC will be very important to the successful integration of the recently-acquired Rohm & Haas facilities, too," notes Price.

Closing the gap between planning and execution also is important to Cabot, Boston, Mass., which is working on a long-term strategy to streamline activities at its carbon black plants worldwide. It aims to replace existing manual processes and customized tools at each plant to improve information available to schedulers and enrich communication along the entire supply chain. So far the company has rolled out Aspen Plant Scheduler to 22 carbon-black and five fumed-metal-oxide sites.

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