GERMAN specialty chemicals company Evonik has created a new digital subsidiary in a move it has described as “pioneering” for the chemicals industry.
Evonik Digital is a 20-strong multidisciplinary team led by process engineer Henrik Hahn, including others with skills covering the chemical sciences, business administration, political science and journalism. The team has a wide-ranging brief, including effects of digitalisation on production, customer interaction, and product customisation.
The company has released little in way of specifics, other than saying there is a plan to generate a package of projects including ‘do-it-yourself sensors’, and that it will begin to introduce the first concrete results later this year.
Pressed by The Chemical Engineer for details on how digitalisation will affect the company’s chemical plants – be it in operation or design – Hahn confirmed that Evonik Digital will steer the wider group’s activities in relation to its production plants. This will include the use of so-called Industry 4.0 technologies at older plants that will enable Evonik to gather data from its older operations and boost performance.
“Furthermore, new production concepts like modular plants could benefit from effective engineering data. Both for existing as well as for new plants, untapped potential may lie in the utilisation of internet-of-things technologies improving the supply chain and optimising operational, safety and environmental performance. When connecting assets, products, services and people the challenge is to capture and convert data into impact,” Hahn said.
While companies specialising in production plant automation – including ABB, Honeywell and Siemens – have developed disruptive technologies that promise smarter, more efficient production, players in the chemicals industry, which by their very nature are conservative, have been cautious to risk large-scale investment in such change.
“Digitalisation offers more than new technologies. It also creates new opportunities for collaboration and production, and gives rise to new business models and marketing options. Evonik is taking a pioneering role in the chemical industry here,” said Christian Kullmann, deputy chairman of the executive board and responsible for the digitalisation strategy.
Evonik Digital was formed in 2016 but only formally announced this week. The team is tasked with working fast, flexibly and with a high degree of freedom to develop novel digital concepts, test them and implement them within the group.
Hahn told The Chemical Engineer that the company doesn’t have all the required capabilities in-house, so a key element of its digitalisation strategy includes gaining access to external skills through cooperation with startups and specialised partners.
“Ultimately, each company must judge for itself how important it is to establish new specialised abilities internally. For example, this may pertain to the question of who develops apps and designs websites. That can be done internally but also by external partners. To give you an example, the analysis and interpretation of data is an important action area for Evonik to further improve the development of our products and services. That prompted Evonik to establish its own big data lab,” Hahn said.
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