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Smart manufacturing is now
Digitalization and 5G technology are empowering chemical production like never before. Across the BASF production sites in China, 90 digital projects are in the pipeline with 40 of them now launched, covering a variety of application scenarios and technical subjects. Let's take a closer look at these smart manufacturing scenarios at present and in the future.

From Industry 4.0 in Germany, the Third Industrial Revolution in the US, to Manufacturing 2025 in China, new manufacturing concepts are sprouting around the world. The fierce competition among manufacturing industries leads to higher market demands for both quality and efficiency. Companies can only thrive by constantly seeking for changes and leveraging great opportunities offered by digital technologies.

At BASF sites in China, 90 digital projects are in the pipeline, among which 40 have been launched. These projects are adapted to a variety of application scenarios, covering augmented/mixed reality, predictive maintenance and process optimization enabled by big data, among others. With in-depth understanding of actual conditions and pain points of each plant and facility, the company's digitalization teams have been developing customized solutions to meet different needs.

Chuck Dai"The development of digitalization is different according to countries,Europe and the United States are more developed in areas such as technologies, regulations and data security. But when talking about application scenarios, China would be the leading market. Especially in the context of the rapid development of 5G in China, these application scenarios will be more strongly supported.BASF is using various digital technologies, combined with its expertise in the chemical industry, to continuously improve the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of its operations and create additional value."
-- Chuck Dai
Head of BASF's Digital Smart Manufacturing Team in Greater China

AR revolutionizes chemical operation

ARIn the past, paper and pens were indispensable in chemical production. Now, through augmented reality (AR) technology, operators can use mobile devices to record production data directly. Reports are automatically generated, and, when necessary, maintenance orders are created in real time. Efficiency is greatly improved as it saves 10 to 15 minutes for each process.

Many thousands of batches are produced in a coatings production workshop at BASF each year. By scanning the QR codes on raw material packages with AR equipment, operators can record the feeding of materials, as well as the sequence and time of input. AR has become a part of the daily work of plant workers, helping to increase productivity.

AR has completely changed the traditional way of working – this is the most impressive experience to front-line workers. Under smart models, data is entered into platforms, and the expertise of people is incorporated into digital systems as well. Despite who is standing behind the facilities, data and expertise are accumulated, overcoming the increased challenge of the fast personnel changes in the manufacturing industry.

While AR is developing quickly and fostering digital thinking in production sites, MR (mixed reality) is also playing an important role. It is combining centralized data to augment the physical world of production plants with the virtual world of data and information. By wearing special glasses, workers can share global resources and communicate with technical experts remotely.

Drone flying beyond the reach

A chemical plant is usually complex, extensive and covers a huge area. In confined spaces such as underground pipes, chimneys and utility tunnels, workers are often exposed to high risks of oxygen deficiency or inhalation of harmful gases. Safety has always been the top priority for chemical companies, which is also a key area for digital technologies to be applied.

Under circumstances of high risks, drones can replace manpower in daily inspection and monitoring. Images and data can be transmitted back through a first-person view (FPV) system in real time. Through such a procedure, operators will know about the status of equipment and facilities and discover irregularities and potential dangers. In addition, an infrared thermal imager mounted on drones can clearly locate faults or heat loss points and quickly send back the status of equipment. With this, safety is improved in production.

Predictive maintenance via big data

According to statistics, 3.5% of unplanned repairs are caused by equipment failure in the chemical industry. This can be partially avoided through effective equipment management. Predictive maintenance utilizes hundreds of sensors to capture real-time data from production facilities. It performs big data analysis with reference to historical data, and through customized modeling, multivariable analysis or data dimensionality reduction. In this way, the approach can identify and forecast potential problems, provide methods for the detection and prediction of anomalies in critical production assets, predict the optimal time for maintenance, optimize efficiency and minimize the impact of equipment failures.

Deep learning and neural network help sustainable operation

Chemical production sitesChemical production sites are required to monitor emissions data and disclose it to the public online. Many chemical companies are increasing investments in environmental protection equipment and measures to improve their environmental performances. Such practices are now aided by more accurate digital tools. Deep learning and neural network algorithms could predict emissions data within the next 15 to 30 minutes, providing automatic alarming to help companies take preventive measures and ensure compliance. In future, it could automatically control and adjust the key process parameters based on the predicted values generated by machine learning algorithms, thus enabling more sustainable operations.

Digital map ensures people safety

Since concrete walls and metal facilities attenuate wireless signals, traditional navigation satellite systems can hardly apply to chemical plants. However, in the event of an emergency at a production site, real-time positioning is critical.

With "Bluetooth + LoRa" positioning technology, Shanghai BASF Polyurethane Co., Ltd. has enabled a variety of safety map applications. For example, the safety index management shows the ratio of contractors and security staff on site. Once the index exceeds the reasonable range in a specific area, the system will automatically issue an alarm to stop more people from entering the area. The system also provides an e-fence function that monitors in real time whether a person entering a particular area has access permission, which greatly helps during a turnover period.

The future of smart manufacturing in the 5G era

At present, the development of digitalization in chemical manufacturing is still limited by communication networks to some extent. The high cost of cables between facilities, the signal attenuation between plants, and the delay of signals are preventing the high-precision process from fully benefiting from digitalization. However, this situation will be completely changed after the large-scale application of 5G technology.

BASF is now partnering with leading companies of information and communications technology infrastructure and smart devices, as well as mobile network operators, to launch 5G pilot projects at Shanghai Pudong Innovation Park and Caojing site. Major application scenarios include: electronic work ticket system (live video + face recognition), intelligent inspection robot, industrial IoT (Internet of Things), and automatic guided vehicle (AGV). These applications will soon be boosted by the large bandwidth, broad connectivity, ultra-low latency, and high reliability of 5G.

Bradley Morrison
"5G technology caters to the demand for wireless networking to enable more smart manufacturing applications, and can further empower the connectivity of facilities and remote interactions.We can imagine that in the near future, 5G networks are going to cover every corner of our plants at BASF, and our digital applications will achieve more breakthroughs to create a safe, efficient and connected manufacturing system."
-- Bradley Morrison
Senior Vice President of Operations and Site Management, BASF Greater China

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