Digitalization has the ability to completely change the way of work, communication, innovation, production and consumption in the chemical industry and the whole society. It can bring unprecedented transparency to the value chain. In the latest Mid Century Vision document molecular managers, Cefic predicted that by 2050, data will replace oil as the most valuable commodity.

The possibility of digital transformation

From data mining to artificial intelligence (AI), from predictive maintenance to data-based process management, digital forms can change the chemical industry. It can achieve key social changes, such as the circular economy, for example, by introducing transparency through the implementation of blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies, and be able to track molecules in the economy, from production to processing and use, to recycling and reuse.

“Digitalization will be the source and driver of fundamental changes across the chemical industry, emphasizing safety and operational excellence,” said Dr. Martin. In winter, Cefic’s innovation manager is currently working on digital innovation in the new suschem strategy’s innovation and research agenda (Sira). The new Sira will set out a series of detailed research and innovation priorities to make digital technology possible for the chemical industry and will be released in November.

“In order to enhance its global competitiveness, the European chemical industry must make full use of the benefits of key digital implementation technologies and advanced data management toolkits,” winter said “This change will take place horizontally, covering the entire product life cycle, including every step of the procurement, production and sales process, as well as the entire value chain.”

Digital technology will contribute to the integrated production management of chemicals, optimizing all aspects of sustainability, from asset data to production scheduling and organizing optimal material and energy flows.

Digitization can also destroy value chains, because digitization can enhance local, more specialized value chains driven by remote and flexible production locations driven by powerful digital process analysis and control technologies. The chemical industry will develop new, data-based business models and supply chain management, and implement more rational design to quickly upgrade production processes. “At the same time, due to the massive data flow, products will increasingly include digital service components to enhance the competitiveness of the entire industry,” winter said

The technology is in place

The industry has established many digital technologies, such as advanced data generation, processing and analysis, artificial intelligence and supercomputing for predictive maintenance, process control, and the development of digital twins: a virtual integrated computer model for the whole process and product life cycle. With the further maturity of these technologies, they will be expanded to become the mainstream of the whole value chain and fully integrated into the new business model.

What should the industry focus on

To integrate the advantages of digital into the industry, we need a properly trained workforce. In a recent opinion on artificial intelligence, it is estimated that a typical chemical enterprise with a turnover of 10 billion euros and 15000 employees may need 500 to 1500 full-time employees with comprehensive digital skills (such as data scientists or it Engineers). These skills are in short supply and require significant efforts in education to ensure that Europe has the right workforce for its digital future.

“Of course, in this new era of instant and ubiquitous digital data exchange, the chemical industry must also become an important stakeholder in industrial cybersecurity initiatives, given the huge value generated through data ownership,” winter stressed. “Advanced security solutions need to be developed to prevent abuse of stored data and protect factory control, wireless systems or cloud based data from any form of interference.”

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