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What changes have an impact on the demand for technology by the chemical industry? What is the pace being taken by industry companies in digital transformation? What opportunities and challenges are being prioritised? Several solution providers in process automation analysed these and other industry questions in a round-table discussion held by the magazine InfoPLC++ in conjunction with Expoquimia.

Taking part in the discussion were representatives from Igus (Jaume Lobato); Iberfluid (Xavier Miquel); Festo (Víctor Labrador); Beckhoff Automation (Lluís Moreno); Endress + Hauser (Enrique Herranz); Siemens (Roger Agelet); Sick Optic Electronic (Luis Alberto Rojo) and Rockwell Automation (Luis Navarra). The debate was moderated by Xavier Alcober, member of the InfoPLC editorial board, with the attendance of the director of Expoquimia, Xavier Pascual.

We have compiled below some of the conclusions:

What companies in the chemical industry are demanding

• The chemical industry is a major energy consumer. They are requesting help to further reduce the energy consumption of their production plants as much as possible and the implementation of green solutions (for example, hydrogen as an energy source, although it is still an incipient technology).
• New opportunities: Increased investment is foreseen from chemical companies in the improvement of energy efficiency and the appearance of new niche businesses.
• It is essential to introduce the so-called disruptive technologies of Industry 4.0 in a sector as conservative as the chemical industry in order to drive innovation.
• Companies in the chemical industry still have a long way to go in automation, improved security and material traceability. One option is to begin with certain processes with more modest investment.
• Increased interest rates do not help foster these investments. Innovating and using new technologies (from new instrumentation to process software solutions) means injecting capital.
• The need to update compliance policies and international standardisation.
• De-globalisation: Change in model that seek to bring production centres closer to lower costs.
• The importance of sustainability and digitalisation implies a change in the labour force. The chemical industry has to draw new talent.

Digital transformation in the industry

• The digital transformation in the chemical industry is occurring more slowly than in other sectors. Its companies are more avert to changing processes that have worked for them for years. Technology suppliers recommend introducing the advantages of automation and connectivity in small projects within the same plant, and then gradually extend the solutions.
• In order to successfully develop digital transformation projects that improve the competitiveness of production facilities, a firm commitment must be made by company management.
• In this transformation, the importance of cybersecurity must be taken into account and must not be forgotten.

Opportunities and limitations

• There are barriers to the introduction of technology in chemical companies: economic reasons, for the conservative nature of the industry, and the lack of personnel trained in the digital skills of Industry 4.0.
• Technology providers play an important role as partners to support this digital transformation with easy and intuitive solutions, as well as custom projects tailored to each company.
• Chemical companies that opt to invest in process automation, improved efficiency and transformation will see their competitive edge grow and continue to do so in the coming years.
• A period of opportunities is opening for companies that decide to invest in
• The chemical industry has to make a greater commitment to career development to ensure the generational succession in their production plants.

Expoquimia: Answers to face new challenges

At this time of decision-making and transformation in the chemical industry, the exchange of information and experiences is highly valuable for leaders and professionals in the sector. This coming May, Expoquimia will be this meeting point between supply and demand to mark the future growth of an industry that is made up of more than 3,000 companies and is strategic for our economy.

At the show, suppliers will strengthen their role as consultants to their clients and potential buyers regarding the technology solutions that best adapt to their production needs, optimise their investments, update their already installed equipment, seek out partnerships and drive innovation and competition.

Read the full article in InfoPLC++ here