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Digitalization builds long-term resilience
ColumnsFeb 19. 2021
By Paige Marie Morse
Aspen Technology, Inc
Resilience is a concept that is top of mind these days, both in our professional and personal lives. The global pandemic has forced all of us to think about how we respond to unexpected situations, and how we manage new and ongoing risk. And how do we think about the future knowing that such events can happen.
As communities and companies are challenged by the current economic and health crisis, our successful recovery requires a new view toward future development and growth with metrics that can show progress toward immediate and long-term goals. Digital technologies can address these challenges and provide the visibility needed to chart our progress.
And it is important to note that risk and resilience are important topics for investors and portfolio managers these days as they rethink their criteria for future investment – criteria that include commitments to environmental, social and governance (so called ESG) improvement.It is exactly this visibility of metrics that reflect progress, and the longer term programs to redesign portfolios that many chemical companies are focused on today.
Dr Paige Morse, AspenTech
During this period of market and economic recovery, a renewed focus on these goals will enable longer-term resilience for successful companies.
Addressing Market Volatility
With the uncertainty about the ongoing pandemic, external markets are particularly volatile and outlooks are increasingly uncertain. Businesses must be adaptable, flexible to respond to unexpected market environments and supply disruptions. Many companies have learned that digitalization is a key enabler to build this flexibility and agility needed for profitability, both now and in the future.
Companies also need insight to make better decisions today and about where their business is headed – I will talk about new technologies to get you there.
The World Economic Forum talks about current times as “The Great Reset in Manufacturing”and in a report this summer lists a few key changes that many of us experienced as business professionals and consumers. More than three-quarters of CEOs surveyed (77%) say this disruption is forcing them to speed up their digital transformation.
And in the context of the rapid technology shifts from the pandemic, digital technologies, including artificial intelligence are critical for competitiveness of companies.
The McKinsey and the World Economic Forum study have identified the key shifts that are stemming from current market challenges .The disruptions from the pandemic have led to so-called “durable shifts” – meaning they will be lasting, and differentiators for future success. The four key shifts are:
• Agility and customer centricity: as a response to the demand uncertainty and disruptions that are challenging planning systems;
• Supply Chain Resilience: as a means to manage the logistics disruptions and trade barriers that persist; especially important with the complex global supply chains that most companies are industries depend on;
• Speed and Productivity: collaboration required as a quick response to remote working and physical distancing required, variable operating environments, and now pockets of economic recession that require operational and capital cost reduction;
• Eco-efficiency: with the increased global concern about the environmental impact of human activities.
Digital technologies help companies make progress on every one of these challenges – a point clearly reinforced by the authors.
Agility and customer centricity: this means faster recognition of customer preferences and corresponding adjustments of production at next-generation small-scale modular plants. Chemical producers need the capability to run multiple scenarios to carefully consider many changing variables, respond to market disruption and rebalance to meet customer demands. Companies benefit from the accuracy of digital technology to represent actual operations, supply chain, etc.
Supply chain technologies work to combine historical data with market intelligence to generate and integrate accurate demand forecasts. This insight helps to manage inventories to optimum levels and takes the guess work out of forecasting so production assets are better utilized, and colleagues are better aligned in their activities.
Supply Chain Resilience: as a competitive advantage, requiring connected reconfigurable supply systems, regionalization and overall higher level of customization. A digital twin of the supply chain, that simulates current operations and enables exploration of alternatives to address vulnerabilities.Make sure your planner is focused on important activities and not distracted; holistically optimize regional and global supply chains.
A customer shared recently that surging demand periods have pushed them to use a scheduling optimization digital twin to align supply chain and operations teams. The digital twin allows them to rapidly adjust to changing conditions while improving critical business performance for cash flow, on-time shipping and flexible output.
Speed and Productivity: attained through increased levels of automation and workforce augmentation, increasing safety and competitiveness in a society when continuous reskilling and mobility are becoming the norm. It is important to synchronize operations to meet unexpected demand.
Also, particularly during these unprecedented times, companies want to ensure productivity and efficiency even when operating outside of normal ranges. Advanced process control (APC) helps to stabilize and optimize operations. And importantly provide in-context guidance to operators to keep processes on track.
Using Machine Learning and AI algorithms to build and deploy APC to enable faster deployment, provide easier use with guided workflow; reduce time to build models from weeks to a few hours. Easier and lower-cost implementation means that users can gain value of APC for more processes, including batch operations for specialty chemicals.
Eco-efficiency: many companies would refer to these activities as Sustainability targets and triple bottom line – seeking to balance People Planet and Profits.
Digital technologies help customers achieve Sustainability targets to increase safety, reduce environmental impact and redesign operations to more sustainable processes and products. Companies are looking at ways to optimize their energy networks and lower the overall carbon footprint of their operations, and are using digital tools that help them identify opportunities for energy recovery and integrate lower carbon energy options, and consider heat and power sharing across their enterprise and with local communities.
And as companies develop more innovative products and processes supporting the circular economy, digital simulations enable faster evaluation of multiple options, reflecting emissions impact and economics for each, so companies can choose the best option and get new products to market more quickly.
And these adaptations help ensure the kind of resilience that will be key to sustaining successful operations in the face of future challenges.