New Phase of Process Industries
Published on : Monday 06-12-2021
Process industries are often characterised by a strong interlocking grip between production systems and products, says Soundharyaa Nandakumar.
Over the span of several years, the evolution of industries has witnessed major changes in terms of innovation. There are several kinds of industries marking their place by the means of contribution in the evolution span. One such industry which is going to revolutionise industrial processes is the Process Industry. Process industry or process manufacturing comprises those industries that extract, transport, process raw materials to manufacture semi-finished or complete products by means of physical, mechanical, or chemical processes, generally characterised by the flow of materials or media.
The services offered by process industries are generally aimed at food, beverages, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, petroleum, ceramics, base metals, coal, plastics, rubber, textiles, tobacco, wood, paper, etc. The primary production processes of process industries are continuous or batch of materials that are identical. For example, in a food processing company, making sauce may make the sauce in a continuous, uninterrupted flow from receipt of ingredients through packaging. Or batches may be produced depending on the cook kettle sizes but immediately combined and re-routed. The key element of process industries is the ingredients or materials used, not parts, not formulas nor bills. Bulk materials are considered rather than individual units. Nevertheless, process manufacturing can be classified based on majority and resource intensity, for example: a bottle of juice is a discrete item, but juice is process manufactured. The plastic used in injection moulding is process manufactured, but the components it is shaped into are generally discrete, and subject to further assembly.
Peter Zornio, CTO of Emerson Automation Solution, says automation advancement will completely change the way of interaction between workers and technology. He adds that technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Advanced Analytics, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Cloud Computing will become embedded in automation. For the successful evolution of process industries and various other aspects, technological development plays a major role. These technologies will be used to automate knowledge for greater outcome beyond process engineering in terms of reliability, safety, energy consumption, global operational performance. It is estimated that process industries will continue to expand as the population increases globally. The companies who continue to develop their innovation around IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), wireless networks, Fieldbus and asset management systems will help the process industries with high accuracy, increased efficiency. Even customers can have their insights in the ongoing process which can also be validated, analysed, and measured in a secure manner.
Industrial engineers and process industry
Industrial engineers always have an urge to change their structure to different work environments starting from automobile assembly plants to foundry operations; but for one industry, which has repeatedly been quite a challenge to industrial engineers is the process industry. The difference between industrial assembly and processing can be characterised as individual or continuous processing. In simple words, for industrial assembly, manufacturing starts with a very large number of raw materials and ends with a small number of finished products; while process operations are the opposite, where few raw materials become highly distinct as material gets added in the flow ending with a large number of finished products.
Characteristics that define process industry
1. Volume, variety and variability: Process industry has evolved so much, where producers must satisfy both high volume and variety. For example, a soft drink bottle ends up in millions of cases every year, which was once a single product, but eventually variety came into picture resulting in sugar free, lemon flavour, cherry flavoured, etc. Along with Volume, Variety, manufacturers are dealing with Variability also, as customers are more likely to change their end preferences according to the latest trend, generation change.
2. Captive and labour intensive: The major difference with process industries which regardless impacts the industrial engineering is process industries are very capital intensive, where industrial engineering is labour intensive.
3. Throughput limited by equipment than labour: In process industries equipment is often the limiting factor, while in other industries labour is the limiting factor. For example, to eliminate bottlenecks and increase throughput, labour is added in many industries which is very rare in case of process industries.
4. Large and difficult to move: Most equipment in process industries is very huge and has process piping, hydraulic lines, and complex wiring making it very difficult to move or relocate to improve productivity or flow.
5. Difficult to start or stop: Generally, in process industries, equipment present are very time consuming and costly to start and restart. For example, chemical polymerisation vessels may run two-to-four-hour batches, which cannot be stopped without damaging or destroying the batch.
From an industrial engineering perspective process industries can be classified into four types:
i. Elemental process: the most basic activities (e.g., in food industry – washing of fruits and vegetables, sorting and peeling)
ii. Compound process: combination of several elemental processes.
iii. Coordinative process: provide support and leadership (e.g., (i) deciding how much to buy/produce, where, by whom and how; and (ii) managing shop floor activities, and
iv. Managerial process: (a) employee development process, (b) process that deals with partner supply chain.
When we talk about development, industrial engineers’ inclination towards process industries Business Model is also one of the vast topics defining process industries, which cannot be neglected at any cost.
Business models in process industries
According to a general survey and review, there has been an extended hand of attention in process industries in terms of business models, but despite growing attention, process industrial business models are still in early development stages, due to lack of clarity in structure and strategy, which is considerably one of the biggest ultimatums which needs to be taken care of in business models. Companies normally define their structure, strategy based on traditional approaches like analysed trends, selecting the suitable and relevant ones for futuristic phenomena, but without properly defining and theoretically grounding the business model. Experimentation with new business models and adaptation of existing ones is difficult, which may also require companies to actively involve their key stakeholders, such as customers and suppliers, in the innovation process. Organisations closely related to process industries must develop their organisational capabilities related to the identification and exploitation of opportunities for business model innovation. The process industries are often characterised by a strong interlocking grip between production systems and products, where production systems and innovation management have a close relationship. Yet both in theory and real world, production and innovation management are disconnected from each other.
From my point of view, the industry is growing globally, so there cannot be any more passive decision towards processes and business structure. Right education must be provided in terms of industries, data analytics, and many more to acquire rightful skills. In addition to developing rightful skills, companies and education mediums must also have close relationships with one another, to make sure skills learnt in schools and colleges fit the needs of employers and students don’t experience a whole round of different input in workspace. Because I believe employees' understanding about the workspace is totally important for the growth of industry, economy, etc.
Soundharyaa Nandakumar has done her Masters in Mechatronics and Cyber-Physical System in Germany and presently working as a Test Engineer, testing Vehicle Electronic Control Units in Connected Drive department. Her previous work experience as an automobile technician has given her a good understanding of how beautiful the car/vehicle is with intricate designs and unbelievable technologies inside. This craze and passion for cars made the decision for her to pursue a career in Automotive Technology.
In her own words, “I always compare cars to women, because we never know what is inside them, how mysterious they are with n number of technologies evolving around every day making them futuristic statements – just like women – undergoing many things in a day to be strong enough to conquer the world.”