November 24, 2022
By: Daniel Voelp
The Added Value that AI Brings to Process Manufacturing
The adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) in the process manufacturing industries is proceeding by leaps and bounds, and for good reason. AI brings an enormous contribution to the realms of process and production, but not everyone is aware of the value that AI offers for a number of other aspects of process manufacturing.
Here’s a brief review of the unexpected and oft-hidden ways that AI improves process manufacturing companies.
Bolstering the workforce
Process manufacturing industries have been facing a talent crisis for some years now, with Deloitte predicting that 2.1 million skilled jobs would go unfilled by 2030. The dwindling workforce is due mainly to two factors: the wave of retirement of baby boomer workers, and the negative associations that younger workers have towards manufacturing jobs.
Fortunately, AI can help address both factors. AI-powered knowledge systems allow companies to record the specialized plant knowledge of experienced workers, and advanced tech like AI glasses and digital twins can communicate it to new employees in more effective ways, thereby stemming the brain drain. Robotic process automation (RPA) and cobots, both based on AI, can also take over more demanding tasks, enabling older workers to delay full retirement.
At the same time, AI helps plants attract younger workers. Today’s digitally skilled talent is looking to join companies that are digitally transformed and use pioneering technology. Process manufacturing companies have a reputation for being traditional and even unexciting, but the adoption of AI transforms associations and appeals more to Millennial and Gen Z employees.
AI’s growing maturity also enables plants to robotize a number of repetitive, tedious, and time-consuming tasks, removing the need to recruit employees for unappealing positions and helping to boost the attraction of process manufacturing jobs for younger applicants.
Reducing environmental impact
Process manufacturing companies often make the headlines in negative ways, such as in reports about oil spills, high pollution levels around a plant, or their measured impact on the environment. Process companies are aware of the need to build a reputation for sustainability and eco-friendliness, and are discovering the many ways that AI can help.
For example, the Bazan oil refinery is located in a populated area. Bazan uses Precognize’s SAM GUARD AI-powered predictive monitoring software to identify incidents that could lead to flare events. By minimizing flare events with AI, Bazan mitigates many of the negative effects on their reputation.
Similarly, ExxonMobil and Shell are among the oil and gas companies that use AI-powered autonomous robots to inspect pipes and rig structures underwater. Exxon also uses drones to make an aerial survey of plants and check on emissions. Other companies use AI to automate drilling, while drones and GPS-powered navigation systems help tankers avoid collisions that cause massive oil spills. AI delivers ways to reduce the environmental footprint of the process industries, in a way that improves their image and saves money on cleanup tasks.
Improving plant efficiency
With the help of AI, process manufacturing companies can measure Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE) far more effectively. Improving OEE raises the quality of the product, helps reduce costs by cutting waste, and makes the entire plant more productive.
AI software like SAM GUARD’s predictive monitoring solution allows you to constantly monitor and analyze a range of metrics around equipment performance, production quality, output, and availability, to rapidly spot anomalies. This way, you can fix emerging problems while they can still be resolved easily and at a low cost, before they have a serious effect on OEE.
With solutions like SAM GUARD, you can also perform root cause analysis for process failures, to identify the cause and act to prevent them in the future.
Advancing customer support
Process manufacturing may not be a consumer-facing industry, but excellent customer support is still vital to nurture customer relationships and retain customer loyalty. That’s why more and more plants are adopting the AI-powered chatbots and customer support assistants that are common in the B2C sector.
AI support bots help customers get a fast answer to their questions, as well as supporting human customer service agents with the information they need to resolve inquiries and complaints. Chatbots are available 24/7 and can respond faster than human agents.
Process manufacturing plants typically have large databases of products which can be difficult to navigate, but AI agents make it easier for customers to find what they need. Finally, chatbots also gather more customer data, helping process manufacturing businesses to improve customer experience.
Delivering business intelligence
AI business intelligence (BI) tools assist manufacturing organizations to refine their business strategies and make better data-driven business decisions, just like in other sectors. These tools can gather and analyze business data from across the organization, competitors, and market fluctuations to alert executives to risks and opportunities that are still on the horizon, so they can prepare to seize the moment or avoid harm.
Given the tenuous state of the supply chain ever since the global pandemic, BI tools like supply chain analytics provide vital visibility into supply chain and logistics, so that plant managers can choose the most reliable suppliers and optimize their supply chain to be more effective.
BI tools like sales analytics and marketing automation further help processing companies to analyze customer expectations, understand customer behavior, and forecast surges in demand, so they can meet customer preferences and deliver the right products at the right time.
Raising safety levels
Manufacturing plants can be hazardous places, but AI is helping to raise the standards for safety for employees and for communities that live around a plant. AI-based predictive monitoring software like SAM GUARD alerts plant management to upcoming equipment failures or serious chemical buildup in tanks ahead of time, preventing a safety issue.
AI-powered advance alerts serve as the proverbial “stitch in time,” notifying plant engineers about emerging issues that could result in a safety breach such as gas leaks, spills of hazardous chemicals, or even explosions. These early warnings enable employees to repair equipment before the weakness becomes critical, making the repair itself safer and easier as well as averting a potentially hazardous incident.
In the field, AI drones run surveys and capture imagery in dangerous or difficult situations such as underwater pipelines, tall chimneys, or tanks of hazardous substances, removing the need to place employees at risk while ensuring that vital equipment is in good condition. AI can also be used in safety meetings, helping to transmit accurate information and sharing dynamic video clips and monitoring reports that assist humans to make better data-driven safety decisions.
AI brings more than you realized to process industries
With use cases in safety, plant efficiency, customer support, environmental impact, and workforce optimization, AI has much more to bring to the process manufacturing industries. AI in process industries goes way beyond improved productivity and streamlined processes, improving safety, profit, and image across the market.