Digital transformation that is revolutionising the process industries

Digital transformation isn’t just about software and systems. It’s also about people. A people-centred approach to digital transformation will help process industries maximise the benefits of Industry 4.0… and get ready for Industry 5.0.

Text by Andreas Eschbach

“Industry 4.0” is on everyone’s mind these days. Driven by rapid growth in automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the Industry 4.0 model promises to enhance productivity, improve information flows, and facilitate better decision-making driven by real-time data. And yet, many process industries, such as chemical manufacturing, have been slower to embrace the digital transformation necessary to achieve these benefits.
Currently many chemical processing plants still rely on spreadsheets, word processing documents, and oral transfer of information during shift handovers. Digitalisation strategies and software systems designed for general business or more standardised industries, such as the automotive industry, tend to have low levels of acceptance and success in process industries because they do not meet the needs of the people on the front lines of chemical manufacturing. And because change comes with heavy risks in this industry, people are naturally reluctant to implement systems that are not proven or fully customised for the needs of the process.
But process industries stand to benefit from digital transformation in many ways if they can overcome the barriers. What is needed is a thoughtful approach to digitalisation that reduces risks enables customisation and localisation, and fully meets the needs of the 24/7 process.

Components of digital transformation

Industry 4.0 is about…

Industry 5.0 is about…

Machine centred approach to autonomous manufacturing. People centred approach supported by robots and AI.
Recognise human as one of its components and tries to replace people. People stay responsible and technology is just in service of people.
Industrial IoT also called CPS. Mainly focusing on machine-to-machine communication Coworking between people, machines, and AI. 
Automating systems and autonomous sub-systems  Enhancing human decision-making and capabilities.
Making data more available and transparent Using data to drive process improvements and competitive advantage

A people-centred approach to digital transformation

How can chemical manufacturers and other process industries gain the benefits of Industry 4.0 while mitigating the risks? By recognising the great role of people in the process industry. That means moving beyond Industry 4.0 to “Industry 5.0”—an approach to digitalisation that puts people back in the centre of the picture.
Industry 5.0 is focused on how people and machines work together to take advantage of the unique strengths of each:

  • Machines (algorithms) are good at data storage, calculation, automation and combing through large data sets to search for patterns.
  • People are needed for tasks involving insight, judgment, and nuanced decision-making.

An Industry 5.0 approach enables manufacturers in the process industry to take advantage of the benefits of digitalisation while avoiding the pitfalls. A people-centred digitalisation strategy draws on the insights and experiences of people working in the industry to create systems that are tailored to the specific needs of workers and managers. When adding a human-centric component to a digitalisation strategy, adoption is easier and faster because it has the end-users in mind.
Algorithms can surface information and patterns that are difficult for humans to detect on their own, but ultimately, they can only follow their programming. That means algorithms are not well-positioned to respond to changing conditions and unanticipated shocks—such as the COVID-19 pandemic, unforeseen raw material shortages or regulatory changes. People are needed to respond to these challenges and align algorithmic activities with strategic priorities. By combining the strengths of both people and machines, we can make organisations safer, smarter and more resilient.

What Is Industry 4.0?

Digitisation: Data and information can be exchanged freely and manipulated easily in digital formats.

Connectivity: Devices, sensors and systems are connected through networks or the cloud-based Industrial Internet of Things.

Automation: Machines (robotics) and software (AI) can take actions and make decisions independently of humans.

Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS): Industrial CPS: Data and machine components are integrated, adapting to conditions in real-time.

Barriers for process industries

Long investment cycles: A chemical manufacturing plant may run for 60 years or more, with many legacy systems and processes in place.

Risk aversion: Process industries are naturally risk- and change-adverse due to regulatory pressures and the high hazards of many chemical processes.

High variability: Plant processes and systems tend to be highly individual, depending on the specific chemical produced, local regulatory environment, and legacy equipment and facilities.

Shiftconnector®: digital transformation for process industries

Process industries need a digital transformation strategy built around their unique needs and priorities. That’s why eschbach built Shiftconnector®: the first shift handover software designed specifically for process manufacturers.
The shift change represents one of the biggest opportunities for digital transformation in process industries. Maintaining the daily knowledge from operators is key to optimising plants
with more efficiency and automation. The 24/7 production environment of process manufacturing requires tight alignment between shifts. Everyone needs to understand emerging problems, changing instructions, and evolving priorities to ensure plant safety, product quality and continuity of activities.
Currently, many process manufacturers still rely on spreadsheets and stand-up meetings for shift handover. Important information is often overlooked or forgotten in these largely manual systems. A general manufacturing execution system (MES) can help, but the information is not always accessible and understandable for the front-line people who need it most.
Shiftconnector was developed to address these challenges. It is a people-centred approach to digital transformation developed for process industries. Shiftconnector connects people to other people across shifts, departments and areas of responsibility. It also provides secure, anytime/anywhere access to real-time information, including sensor data, IIoT devices, and field notes from operators and inspectors. Finally, it makes sure everyone has actionable information at the right time, so they can do their jobs well.
Critically for process industries, Shiftconnector can be customised for the needs of people at each plant. That ensures improved user acceptance and optimal support for local requirements—including adaptations for local regulations, specific processes and more. At the same time, Shiftconnector helps companies harmonise information transfer across locations and regions. It provides overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) real-time analysis for even the most complex plant operations that connects all people in various departments to critical system data that can increase manufacturing productivity.

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