Digitalization can improve chemical industry maintenance performance and give companies who embrace technology a decided advantage in today’s globally competitive environment.

Digitalization may be a confusing word for many chemical companies. A straightforward definition is that digitalization is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.

According to a recent blog on megatrends in the chemical industry, digital technology can help chemical companies in many ways, such as capturing critical data and drawing insights from it to achieve improved output at lower costs, scheduling preventive maintenance to minimize downtime, and facilitating accurate inventory planning to prevent stockouts.

After looking at the benefit areas pointed out by the Market Research Blog and mentioned in the above paragraph, a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) like Maintenance Connection is a logical first step toward digitalization for chemical companies because it delivers value in the three key areas mentioned:

  1. Collects asset and maintenance data, delivering robust reports and KPIs to convert to actionable intelligence that helps lower maintenance costs.
  2. Enables preventive maintenance planning based on designated triggers and provides automated work order generation to anticipate and prevent unplanned downtime.
  3. Optimizes inventory management with part serialization and integrated barcode scanning.

In operations, the application of digital technologies to functions such as maintenance is already improving plant and network performance and minimizing downtime, reducing operating costs by 2 to 10 percent according to 2017 Chemicals Trends.

While reactive maintenance was the norm for many years, it is no longer an acceptable maintenance strategy for companies who want to excel. Chemical companies are in varying stages of transition from reactive maintenance. Some are still using paper work order systems, others are using spreadsheets, and many have implemented a CMMS but may not be using it to its full capability. A CMMS can be a strong foundation for shifting to a preventive maintenance, and eventually predictive maintenance, approach.

Asset and maintenance data.

The first step toward digitalization is data accumulation. Collecting asset and maintenance data is a cornerstone of maintenance improvement, but the data alone is not enough. To effectively integrate data into maintenance programs, the information must be accurate, accessible, easily searchable and actionable.

Data accuracy requires a reliable data collection platform and correct data input where required. Consider the opportunities for inaccuracy in a paper work order system reflected in the following scenario. A technician is working on a pump in the distillation area and completes the work at eleven o’clock. He does not have a pen and has to walk back to the control room, which is ten minutes away. When he reaches the control room, one of the operators stops him to talk about an issue in his area. At eleven-thirty, he finally tracks down a pen and enters the time of completion by looking at the current time on his watch. If a supervisor wants to get insight into how long it took to complete the repair, it is going to be skewed by thirty minutes.

While the above example is simplistic, it shows that data accuracy is not always straightforward. Consider as an alternative, MC Express, which is a mobile solution that allows technicians to use an easy start and stop button to capture the actual repair time. With the touch of a screen, it instantly captures the real-time actuals that are documented and immediately available. While there are area classification concerns with the utilization of mobile devices in some chemical plants, this type of solution can bring tremendous value when and where it can be used.

The accessibility of data is also critical. Paper-based systems typically require individuals to find the binders or files in the binders that they may or may not be able to access. Asset history is often available only through purchase orders and maintenance records that are difficult to find. These types of limitations can prevent the successful use of data.

One of the challenges with not having a CMMS is that even when data is available, it may be difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions because it is not easily searchable. As an example, perhaps an individual is looking to evaluate the number of work orders associated with a reactor agitator over the last five years, specifically to see if there is a correlation between the maintenance requests and run-time. In a paper-based system, data like this can be difficult to extract, especially when getting to the step of trying to correlate to run-time. In a CMMS, that asset and work order history is immediately available and reflects the value of digitalization.

Digitalization through a CMMS and other means can help chemical companies expand visibility into their maintenance programs. Reports and KPIs based on user-designated parameters convert asset and maintenance data into organizational intelligence. It enables supervisors, managers, and executives to act upon the data and make better business decisions based on real-time and historical data.

Preventive maintenance.

Many facilities within the chemical industry are mature and comprised of assets that tend to need more frequent maintenance. Maintenance departments in many chemical plants are still operating in a largely reactive mode. Those with antiquated maintenance processes such as paper work orders or Excel spreadsheets tend to be the most reactive. However, some organizations with a CMMS still operate with a very reactive mindset, failing to maximize the value of the system.

When we talk about maintenance digitalization, one of the most powerful opportunities chemical companies have is to focus on their preventive maintenance (PM) programs. Most of the industry has some form of PMs in place as a result of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 1910.119 standards for process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals. However, chemical companies do have improvement opportunities when it comes to PM work order management. For example, many plants use time-based triggers for PMs, but have not evaluated maintenance data to determine if a PM process might be more effective to use run-time, rotations, cycles of use, or some other measurement. The primary advantage of seeing if there are other triggers that identify failures in advance is that it can start to reduce and even eliminate unplanned downtime events.

For chemical companies embracing maintenance digitalization and implementing Maintenance Connection, they are able to automate their PM workflow, generating PM schedules that are initiated by a trigger they define. As chemical manufacturers optimize their PM programs, they can begin to make significant progress in reducing downtime. Why is this important? One recent report, 2017 Aberdeen Group Asset Performance Management: Blazing a Better Path to Operational Excellence, indicates that manufacturing companies lose $50 Billion annually in unplanned downtime. The chemical industry contributes to this number and any reductions that can be made save companies money.

Inventory optimization.

Another valuable digitalization benefit that Maintenance Connection delivers is Equipment Inventory Management. Finding the right inventory balance to manage parts and inventory throughout the maintenance lifecycle can provide significant savings to chemical companies.

Chemical companies lose money when they have unused parts just sitting in a warehouse. Alternately, parts that are not available when they are needed, particularly during an unplanned downtime event, may have to be expedited, costing much more than necessary. Consider a pump in a critical application that goes down the day before a holiday. The maintenance technician discovers that the pump’s impeller is the problem. Normally, there is a spare in inventory, but someone failed to order one when the last one was used. An emergency shipment of the impeller on a holiday weekend is going to be costly. With Maintenance Connection, all of the contributing factors that led to this situation can be addressed; the inventory control can be established with maximums and minimums, barcode scanning can be used to identify parts taken out of inventory, and automatic reorder points can be established to ensure that the replacement part is purchased.

Digitalization can optimize inventory spending and reduce stockouts. Over the course of a year, this can reduce spend and result in more efficient parts utilization.

Competitive differentiation.

As chemical companies continue to look for advantages to differentiate their performance from competitors, digitalization will be key.

Figure 1 - Enhancing Margins

 Accruent – Maintenance Connection – Blog Posts - Using Digitalization to Improve Chemical Industry Maintenance Performance

Per Figure 1, digital performance maintenance is expected to drive meaningful change in the chemical industry. Chemical companies have an opportunity to embrace digitalization, taking advantage of CMMS features to transform themselves from reactive to proactive maintenance. Asset and maintenance intelligence, automated preventive maintenance initiated by the right triggers, and optimized inventory management can all work together to improve maintenance strategy and performance, while reducing downtime and lowering maintenance and inventory costs.

How much can a CMMS save your chemical plant? Find out using Accruent’s Maintenance Connection Cost Savings Calculator.