How to Get a Connected Chemical Plant

How to Get a Connected Chemical Plant

Use of smarter, integrated technologies can help monitor and boost asset performance, enhance flexibility, reduce risk and improve maintenance.

By Gordon Bordelon, chemical industry lead, Rockwell Automation

Chemical producers face many business challenges — from stiff competition and reduced margins to limited human capital, regulatory compliance and supply chain digitization. While trying to juggle these challenges, they also face the day-to-day realities of dealing with aging assets and growing support costs.

Decades-old chemical plants across the United States are working to address a range of equipment challenges, including obsolete equipment, unplanned downtime and limited visibility into critical-asset performance.

With the digital landscape changing rapidly, chemical producers are looking to technology to help solve their issues with a quick return on investment (ROI). That’s why it’s important to rethink business decisions and consider technology investments that will deliver both incremental and long-term ROI.

The connected production technologies available now are far beyond those available just 10 years ago. Advanced technology gives chemical producers immediate relief from the constraints of obsolete equipment and limited human capital and domain expertise. It also can help merge IT and OT systems to provide seamless connectivity for managing production and turning supply chain data into actionable real-time information.

The Connected Chemical Plant

This connected, information-driven approach to chemical production can be called a connected chemical plant.

Building a connected chemical plant doesn’t have to be daunting. Think of it like this: By strategically prioritizing investments around smarter technologies, a connected chemical plant offers nearly unlimited opportunities to monitor and improve production performance. So, what does this mean for everyday operations?

Increased Asset Utilization: Optimizing asset utilization begins with being able to measure asset performance and identify production problems in real time. A modern distributed control system (DCS) can integrate all aspects of automation and information into a single, plantwide infrastructure.

Simultaneously, integrated power control systems can capture the electrical data from aging production assets to monitor their performance and help minimize unexpected downtime and predict equipment issues. It’s a win-win for chemical producers.

Improved Operations Flexibility: A connected chemical plant can make batch production more agile and flexible by allowing operators to make changes more easily and bring new products online faster. This makes difficult-to-measure batch-to-batch variability that cause quality and throughput issues a thing of the past.

Reduced Risks: Operational and regulatory risk-facing producers can be easily understood and managed with a connected chemical plant. Scalable safety instrumented systems (SIS) allow chemical producers to apply various levels of risk mitigation as required by their specific needs.

Additionally, pre-engineered SIS solutions also are available to fill capability gaps and address specific business challenges in older plants in the most cost-effective manner.

Improved Maintenance and Support: Many producers struggle to support the mix of automation technologies that they accumulated from multiple vendors over many years. Standardizing and consolidating technologies in a connected chemical plant reduces the number of systems with which maintenance technicians and support teams must support and stock spares.

Technology Investments Pay Off

With these capabilities in place, chemical producers can better monitor and upgrade aging assets as needed. You can reduce the support costs associated with unplanned downtime and myriad systems. Then you can focus newfound opportunities to improve operations and boost production.


The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.

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The JOURNAL from Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is a bimonthly magazine, published by Putman Media, Inc., designed to educate engineers about leading-edge industrial automation methods, trends and technologies.