The chemicals industry is going through very interesting times. This is an intense period of building new plants in the Gulf Coast, mergers and acquisitions are frequent along with divestitures, and products are becoming commoditized. Supply chains are ever complex, and safety/compliance issues are paramount. At the same time, the workforce is beginning to retire, and with that, a lot of knowledge is walking out the door. Uptime has to be maximized, processes have to be optimized, cycle times reduced, and the workforce has to be engaged by leveraging digital technology. The need for real-time information to manage demand and supply is making chemical companies adopt sensors to collect data and make predictive decisions. Digital, indeed is being embraced by chemical companies. As we talk to various chemicals/refinery customers in Texas and beyond, we have found 3 non-obvious Digital use cases for mobile applications (beyond Operator Rounds, Work Orders, Warehouse Management):
1. Supply Chain/Transportation: Chemical companies ship products that are frequently hazardous. Many times, they outsource the shipping to third-party carriers. These carriers can be shipped via trucks and rail. However, the liability to ensure that the transport vehicle is roadworthy still rests with the chemical company. So, the employee of the chemical company has to do inspection checks and record them. Calculations need to be performed as the quantity of chemical loaded depends on various parameters. These are today performed manually, and results are recorded on paper. All this paper and manual work could be replaced by a mobile app that can record data on a smartphone/tablet, and send that data to SAP or some other system. Results in better safety/compliance, faster shipping, and better customer service.
2. Production: In chemical processes, the yield is different from the theoretical value due to process parameter variations or impurities. Hence, it is difficult to know beforehand the exact quantity of a product produced. So, frequently, the production order has to be adjusted or a new order created. Mobile apps on tablets/smartphones can be used to adjust/create production orders in SAP straight from the shop floor.
3. Product Shipping: It is not uncommon for wrong products to be shipped—the chemicals industry is no exception. However, shipping a wrong chemical is vastly different from shipping a wrong pair of sneakers. There can be serious legal and financial consequences. Mobile apps that scan barcodes to compare material number in various documents like Shipping Order, Certificate of Analysis or Bill of Lading can minimize the probability of wrong product shipments by alerting warehouse workers in case of a mismatch.
Hope that you found the above non-obvious mobile use cases in Chemicals interesting. If you have ideas related to these, pl. share them.