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Chemical industry innovator sees more opportunities for analytics

Stan Higgins says, “Without analytics you are relying on faith, hope and to some degree charity – will the customer wait for the next set of results?”Stan Higgins says, “Without analytics you are relying on faith, hope and to some degree charity – will the customer wait for the next set of results?”Since my father was a chemistry professor, I have an appreciation of the chemist’s point of view. Chemicals are ubiquitous — in us, on us and around us. As the American Chemical Society states, “Chemistry is not limited to beakers and laboratories. It is all around us, and the better we know chemistry, the better we know our world.”

As with many other disciplines though, chemistry must evolve to take advantage of more data and the methods to distill that data into knowledge. The Royal Chemical Society makes some predictions along these lines, a few of which are included here:

  • “Chemistry will need to become more global, more interdisciplinary, and more collaborative."
  • "There will be an enormous growth in scientific data, as well as the tools to manage, interrogate and analyse it.”

This month’s featured guest in our Analytically Speaking webcast series, chemical industry innovator Dr. Stan Higgins OBE, is attuned to those predictions and sees the opportunities for analytics to create more value. After a 48-year career, Stan was awarded an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his work promoting the United Kingdom’s chemical process manufacturing industry.

He is the retired CEO of NEPIC (the North East Process Industries Cluster) where he contributed to the region’s noteworthy growth and global influence on the chemical, biotech and renewables industries. Stan is a Fellow of the World Society of Chemistry and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chemical Industries Association. Though Stan’s subject-matter expertise is in specialty chemical manufacturing, his insights are relevant to other process-enabling industries like pharmaceuticals, biotech, semiconductors and advanced materials. 

Stan cites a constant pressure to innovate in the chemical and chemistry-using industries. The pressure to speed up research, develop products more quickly to be more responsive to customers’ demands for improvements, to offer products which are more sustainable and less toxic are just some of the pressures stoking innovation.

Stan sees key opportunities for analytics to alleviate some of that pressure — in research and development, production, maintenance, and beyond. Here are some highlights: 

  • For R&D, experimentation has to be smart. With designed experiments, you can learn faster. Faster learning drives better decisions, reveals the sweet spots of opportunity, and ultimately, brings better products to market more quickly.
  • Moving to production, Stan says while there is always the desire to make things as efficiently as possible, care has to be taken to meet health, safety, and environmental constraints. Since you want to address quality out of the gate as well, analytics plays an important role in process understanding and improvement. Stan explains that there are many variables—the quality and variability of raw materials, the durability and precision of the equipment, etc. Getting a handle on that variability, understanding what affects quality and how to improve it are more opportunities for analytics.
  • Beyond production, Stan talks about the opportunities to capture more value in maintenance, a specialized area with their own data and processes. These range from preventive maintenance to improving equipment performance and beyond. Stan indicates that monitoring maintenance (and other aspects of production) has been facilitated with automated data collection, resulting in a great deal of data, much of which is often left untapped.

As Stan says, “we produce data and never use it…, but people are beginning to realize they’ve paid for all this data.”

To learn more about opportunities to create more value more quickly in chemistry and chemical-using industries, watch the interview with Stan.

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