Private wireless networks and their supporting monitoring systems can guide the sector’s green digitilisation journey, says David De Lancellotti, Enterprise Head of PWLS Campus, CNS Cloud and Network Services at Nokia.

As one of the largest industrial energy consumers, reducing its impact on the environment is one of the biggest challenges facing the chemical industry today. An EY CEO Outlook Survey found 40% of CEOs are emphasising digitalisation – the transformation to Industry 4.0 – as a core element to achieving sustainability goals, with 65% of those surveyed expecting it to impact their business significantly.

In an industry that creates massive amounts of data, the ability to connect systems and automate health monitoring and analysis will deliver myriad benefits. Poor access to data means potential failures are hard to identify. By digitalising operations, predictive maintenance is made possible, allowing companies to extend asset life and reduce downtime. A lower reliance on manual processes means production accuracy, safety and efficiency are increased, while waste is reduced. But the impact of digitalization on sustainability goals doesn’t end there.

Greater transparency into energy consumption will support better decision-making about production processes and usage as well as how to offset emissions. Sustainability reporting will be made easier too, to satisfy growing consumer, investor and regulator appetites.

We have found that many of the large chemical manufacturers surveyed are leading with digitalisation plans and are looking to expand them further. While these larger companies are already leveraging digital twins and simulations to increase efficiency, smaller specialty companies that have only recently started to digitalise operations wish they had done so earlier.

Choosing the right technology for transformation

For those just now embarking on their digital transformation journey, the challenge is to effectively harness the data that other communications networks can’t reach.

As more machines and sensors are connected and new data analytics, AI and VR capabilities are introduced for process simulation and productivity improvements, Wi-Fi campus networks will become congested and unreliable. Assets will more easily disconnect from the network and the flow of data will be interrupted.

The recent industry digital pulse study found chemical manufacturers are leading the way in the use of drones to access data readings in hazardous environments. For these to be effective, they must remain connected, but Wi-Fi is too unpredictable for this. Latency too is an issue, and the lack of real-time data will reduce the impact of analysis and predictive and preventative controls.

Digital transformation using secure, resilient private wireless

For companies to truly benefit from digital transformation, they need the pervasive connectivity, low latency and high bandwidth provided by resilient and secure private 4G/LTE and 5G wireless networks.

Butachimie, a key supplier in the production of nylon, is one company that has adopted 4G private wireless as the backbone for its digital transformation project at its Chalampé plant in Alsace, France. The company is committed to protecting the safety and security of employees and safeguarding the environment in which it operates. Its private 4G network uses industrial IoT sensors to allow teams to anticipate failures and ensure continuous production.

Reducing Energy Consumption

Because private wireless isn’t susceptible to interference from metal structures, drones, autonomous robots and other devices remain connected as they navigate a plant, ensuring the vital flow of data. Capacity and coverage gains move companies closer to achieving their sustainability goals too. With fewer 4G and 5G radios than Wi-Fi access points required to cover the same space, companies can achieve up to 90% reduction in power consumption.

Significant energy savings can also be made by turning off separate Wi-Fi, DECT, CCTV, PMR and IoT networks and consolidating capabilities onto a single private wireless network platform. A platform that integrates ruggedized industry ser devices, edge processing, and an array of compelling Industry 4.0 applications will offer the greatest flexibility for companies, evolving with them as their plans progress.

Evolving capabilities at the industry edge

With the chemical industry predicted to spend US$7.4 billion on the digitalization of plants by 2031, investment in data analytics software and associated services will see the greatest growth (9.5% CAGR). This indicates a growing recognition of the value of data analytics. The use of AI and mixed reality for capabilities including predictive maintenance and digital twins will require data to be processed and consumed in real time. It’s vital then that private wireless platforms allow for the smooth integration of powerful on-premises industrial edge capabilities.

A recent Nokia study uncovered real-world early adopter experiences of private wireless. 93.6% of companies had seen improvements in worker safety or a reduction in accidents. In terms of energy emission and consumption reductions, 95.6% had seen improvements with 70% seeing improvements of more than 10%, while 94.7% saw energy consumption decrease, and nearly 50% saw it decrease by over 10%. It’s clear that by defining a path to Industry 4.0 using a robust, secure, private wireless platform, chemical companies will be well equipped to tackle their sustainability goals.