Partnering Proves Profitable

Jan. 28, 2010
Chemical makers increasingly look for outside help to improve performance

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 (www.ChemicalProcessing.com/articles/2008/012.html).

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.

Improved Monitoring
Figure 1. Better system to monitor ground-flare hydrocarbon emissions helps ensure environmental compliance at Ludwigshafen. Source: BASF.

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.

"Cabot has plants all over the world and wanted to standardize its product so that carbon black from every facility was absolutely identical. That would give them tremendous supply-chain flexibility. Huge savings have been made because the company no longer has to hold so much inventory. And we are seeing a lot more of this sort of APC application," says Price.

She sees a trend in the evolution of "lighter" controllers for smaller units such as those used by specialty chemicals producers. "In the future, there will be batch process control once the dynamics have been fully understood. However, closer at hand is adaptive modeling, which is tentatively aimed at a Q1 2010 launch. We are currently doing extensive data testing with a number of customers in both Europe and the U.S."

A Changing Environment
Environmental regulations, notably REACH in Europe (www.ChemicalProcessing.com/articles/2009/219.html), are compelling stronger communication along the supply chain and leading to partnerships. For instance, regulatory compliance has been one of the driving forces behind AspenTech's tie-up with International Environmental Associates (IEA), Houston, a company that focuses on delivery of compliance programs. Together they have been working with BASF, Ludwigshafen, Germany, on a system to monitor ground-flare hydrocarbon emissions (Figure 1).

To this end, IEA has developed an environmental monitoring and compliance suite of applications that operate in an Aspen InfoPlus.21 environment. Now, adverse events trigger automatic notification of BASF personnel, while online access to emissions data allows immediate agency notifications.

Regulatory compliance, of course, requires myriad operational data. So, processors are investing in the sort of rugged hardware and software solutions that allow acquiring and processing vast amounts of data as quickly as possible.

For example, the downstream manufacturing division of Royal Dutch Shell, The Hague, the Netherlands, has entered into a multi-year partnership with Invensys Operations Management (IOM), London, U.K., to utilize Invensys' Wonderware IntelaTrac mobile workforce and decision-support solution as one tool in the ensure safe production (ESP) initiative at 29 of its global manufacturing facilities.

The IntelaTrac system, which includes both configurable software and rugged intrinsically safe hardware, will help Shell operators, field engineers and supervisors create, define and routinely execute equipment surveillance and regulatory procedures following best practices, corporate policies and regulatory mandates. It will alert operators executing in-the-field procedures on their mobile computers to potential equipment issues in real time so that they can take corrective action immediately, as well as maintain regulatory compliance.

REACH, for one, also is making it increasingly important to have as much information as possible on hand about individual chemical species. This has spurred a new alliance between AspenTech and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Boulder, Colo., that has enabled the company to add more than 15,000 chemical species to its physical property database. "In the future, we plan to extend the database to include binary data, too," notes Sanjeev Mullick, director product marketing.

Sometimes, though, it's not lack of data, but the varied types and forms of data that's a key problem. "Advances in IT have been a hidden gold mine for many manufacturers. Access to data is often not the issue," says Keith McPherson, director, Rockwell Automation, Milwaukee, Wis. Instead, the challenge is connecting multiple data sources — real-time, historical, relational and transactional — to create a single resource that can access, aggregate and correlate information. Such cohesive information improves decision-making for the manufacturing environment — from inventory to maintenance, quality to production all the way through the enterprise, including the supply chain, he explains.

To help manufacturers better monitor and manage productivity in real time and thus make more insightful decisions about business priorities such as global supply chain management, Rockwell has introduced FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI business intelligence software. The new application is based on a unified production model (UPM) that pulls together seemingly disparate manufacturing data and gives a context for relationships among equipment, product, materials and people. The UPM organizes various manufacturing and enterprise data using commonly referenced business terms such as "equipment," "batches," or "manufacturing lots."

The new application suits single or multiple manufacturing problems, on one manufacturing line or across a global enterprise. In addition, the software can handle specific manufacturing needs like downtime reporting, status tracking or multiple control-system reporting.

Human Resources, Too
BASF looked for outside help to radically improve its pan-European HR capabilities so staff could connect with specialist HR services more easily. Transforming how its chemical plants operate also was one of the key drivers for the effort.

More than a third of the company's 97,000 worldwide employees work at its complex in Ludwigshafen. However, each of BASF's European production sites had its own HR department. This was relatively costly and hampered standardizing processes, analyzing operations and developing best practices.

By leveraging its extensive customer relationship management (CRM) and HR expertise, IBM Global Business Services, Armonk, N.Y., helped BASF implement and integrate SAP applications to create two shared HR service centers — one for Ludwigshafen and one for European group companies — and introduce self-service kiosks in production facilities that enable workers to access HR services online for the first time.

Real-time reporting on HR activity aids BASF in designing new HR services based on user demand and feedback. SAP CRM manages HR processes from end to end, automatically routing enquiries to the appropriate HR specialist, so users have a single point of contact for all HR-related issues.

"By leveraging the SAP CRM and employee self-service applications, we now only need 110 HR specialists to serve more than 36,000 employees in Ludwigshafen, and Europe-wide we serve 18,000 employees with 90 HR specialists — so it is a very cost-effective solution," says Peter Schimbeno, global HR governance.

"In the near future we are hoping to extend this use of the business intelligence function to help us do more than just optimize processes. Through monitoring the usage of the existing services and gaining feedback from our end users, we will be able to identify where new services should be developed — responding to the user ecosystem in a much more proactive fashion than was ever possible before," he adds.

A Stronger Voice
A new strategic initiative by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Arlington, Va., which now mainly includes large chemical manufacturers, aims to expand membership to small- and medium-sized companies as well as value-chain partners (though an affiliate membership category).

This, says the ACC, will improve the effectiveness of getting its message out and also will help overcome perceptions at some small companies that participation in its Responsible Care program (www.americanchemistry.com/s_responsiblecare/sec.asp?CID=1298&DID=4841) requires a financial commitment beyond their means.

"The business of chemistry is facing an unprecedented number of global and domestic policy challenges — from product attacks, to chemical management
reform, to climate change, facility security and rail competition," notes Cal Dooley, ACC president and CEO. "We believe our initiative will attract new members, expand ACC's advocacy base, enhance the reach of the Responsible Care program, and enable the industry to speak with a stronger and more effective voice," he adds.

Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at [email protected].

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