Chemical Execs Expect To Increase Digital Investment

Jan. 26, 2018
Accenture survey finds digital adoption is increasing in chemical plants as more firms recognize the technologies’ financial and operational value.

Digital adoption is increasing in chemical companies’ plants as more firms recognize the technologies’ financial and operational value, according to Accenture’s new “Digital Technology in Chemical Plant Operations” survey. Yet, digital technologies are still in the early stages of deployment on the plant floor.

That may be changing, however. The survey of 360 chemical executives from 12 countries reportedly reveals 80% of respondents are investing more, or significantly more, in digital technologies for their plant environments, and 85% expect overall digital investment to increase in the next three years. Moreover, 92% of chemical executives are satisfied with the benefits received from their digital investments, with effective plant management the top cited benefit, followed by improved product quality.

An overwhelming number of respondents (95%) are also seeing the tangible financial value of utilizing digital in their operations, according to Accenture. Just under one-third (31%) saw an operating profit improvement in production/manufacturing operations of 10% to 20%, with an additional 20% seeing gains of 20% to 40%. This is reportedly supported by Accenture’s recent Industry X.0 research, which showed that combining technologies like augmented reality/virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, big data analytics and digital twin to increase operational efficiency could realize initial savings of more than $90,000 per chemical company employee.

Although many chemical companies have started pilot programs across their operations, full deployment of digital technologies remains limited. Even for technologies where executives see more widespread adoption, including cloud, robotics, artificial intelligence, mobility/wearables and cybersecurity, less than one-third of respondents cited using each technology broadly.

When it comes to pilot programs, analytics is the technology in which chemical companies are investing most often, cited by 43% of respondents. Just under half (46%) listed analytics in their top three digital investment areas over the next three years, as it provides a way to drive more value from the large amounts of generated data. In fact, half (51%) saw analytics as one of the top three technologies with the most ROI potential in the next 12 months, more than for other technologies.

Meanwhile, chemical firms’ plant operations are becoming increasingly connected, leaving them open to the growing threat of cyberattacks. In the past 12 months, 73% of respondents had more than 30 attempted breaches of their plant operations, more than half (54%) suggested more than 30 attacks were successful, and 50% indicated it took days, weeks or even months to detect them. Yet, faced with this challenge, chemical companies’ abilities to identify, handle and respond to the threats are severely lacking, says Accenture. Currently, only 42% can manage the financial risk due to a cybersecurity event targeting their plant operations, or minimize the disruption. Even fewer (39%) can identify the cause of a breach, and only a third (33%) are able to monitor for breaches.

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