July 2, 2019
By: Lyat Avidor Peleg
The Unforeseen Impact of AI on Process Manufacturing Industries
The adoption of AI in the process manufacturing industries is proceeding by leaps and bounds. By now, it’s well known that AI brings a huge contribution to the realm of process and production, but what’s less well known is that AI also influences a number of other touchpoints, adding value that is often overlooked. Here’s a brief review of the oft-hidden ways that AI improves process manufacturing companies.
Many of the process industries face a talent crisis. Take, for example, the Oil and Gas industry. As highlighted in a recent report by EY, older, experienced workers who started during the oil and gas boom of the 1970s have one foot out the door towards retirement. At the same time, younger workers aren’t filling their places in the same numbers. AI can help with this upcoming crisis in two ways: through easing talent acquisition, and reducing brain drain.
Younger workers are eager to join companies that are digitally transformed and use pioneering technology. Process manufacturing companies are seen as conservative compared to other, more modern, industries. But as AI moves into the plant, it raises its reputation among the next generation, changing their view of the workplace from backwards to innovative and cutting edge.
What’s more, new entrants to the job market may consider certain process segments, such as oil and gas, to be dangerous to work in. By digitizing many of the more dangerous and tiresome process manufacturing tasks, AI adds to the appeal and reduces the anxiety that Gen Y and Z may feel about joining the process industries.
Reducing brain drain
As older workers retire, they take their irreplaceable lifetime experience with them. AI helps stem this flood by recording their knowhow in intuitive, AI-powered retrieval systems that can be easily accessed by new entrants. In this way, AI preserves specialized plant knowledge to pass it on to the next generation.
At the same time, digitalization automates complicated manual tasks, replacing humans with robots and removing the need to put certain incoming workers through complex training processes.
Process manufacturing companies often make the headlines in adverse ways, because of a massive oil spill or other environmental crisis. That’s why companies are working to use AI to reduce their environmental impact.
For example, the Bazan oil refinery is located in a populated area. Bazan uses Precognize’s SAM GUARD AI software to predict 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 uses AI-powered robots for advanced seep detection. Other companies use drones underwater to scan pipelines for leaks, or to make an aerial survey of plants in hazardous locations, to check on their emissions. Increased use of 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.
With the help of AI, process manufacturing companies can measure Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE) far more effectively, in order to improve both the quality and productivity of the plant. AI software like SAM GUARD allows you to constantly monitor and analyze equipment production quality, performance, output, availability, and standard measurements to rapidly spot any problem that is affecting output and to fix it before it has a serious effect on overall 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.
Chatbots and AI-powered customer support assistants are already commonplace in many B2C businesses and sectors. They help consumers find the right product and get a fast answer to their questions, as well as supporting human customer service agents by ensuring that they always have the information they need to respond appropriately to customer inquiries and deal with complaints.
Now AI customer support is coming to process manufacturing industries to serve exactly the same process with B2B customers. Chatbots are always available 24/7, deliver fast answers to common questions, and reduce friction in customer service. Process manufacturing plants typically have large databases of products which can be difficult to navigate, but AI agents like the one launched recently by Royal Dutch Shell make it easier for customers to find what they need. By gathering more customer information, chatbots also help process manufacturing businesses to improve their customer experience even further.
Just like in other sectors, process manufacturing industries rely on AI business intelligence tools. These tools can gather and analyze business data from across the organization, using it to deliver business insights that enable better data-driven decision making. BI tools like sales analytics, supply chain monitoring, AI-powered logistics, and marketing automation all help processing companies to better predict surges in demand, understand customer behavior, and deliver products on time.
AI has a critical role to play in improving safety in the process industries. 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,” enabling you to repair equipment before a 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 over hazardous ground or in dangerous or difficult situations such as underwater pipelines, improving human security. 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
If you assumed that AI was only relevant for process and production issues, it’s time to rethink your assumptions. 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.
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