Siemens Head of Chemical Industry, Ian Elsby, joined me to discuss how a strong electrical infrastructure resilience and efficiency strategy can support customers in this incredibly diverse and powerful sector of the UK economy, which exported over £58 billion last year and supports over 500,000 jobs.
“Ian as a starting point could you give me an insight into how Siemens operates in the chemical industry in the UK and Ireland?“
Siemens has a very strong presence. Our customers range from major corporations like BASF, Dow, DuPont, Ineos and Akzo Nobel but we also support the many thriving MME and SME businesses who also make a huge contribution to the industry.
Our customers also reflect the sheer diversity of the industry and we work with petrochemical and refining businesses through to bulk and fine chemicals as well as coatings and paints.
Siemens is also very active within the industry where we are associate members of Chemicals NW, North East of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) and the Chemical Industries Association.
Significantly, we have just been involved in contributing to a major report through the Chemical Industries Association with a specific focus on digitalisation in the chemical sector.
“Is better connectivity that delivers cost efficiency something customers are exploring and investing in?“
A good level of awareness is there simply because the industry is very energy intensive.
Critically, because the UK is a leader when it comes to investing in and introducing renewable energy sources this transformation process is coming with costs for industry and the consumer. Our electricity bill is higher than many other comparable markets because they are often not investing in non-carbon alternatives at the same rate as the UK.
Senior engineers as well as procurement professionals are very mindful of that upfront cost and can also see that more precise, accessible data is one a gateway to ensuring energy consumption is as lean as it possibly can be and identify future savings.
“And this must be particularly important as the UK energy market has both its challenges and opportunities.“
Previous industry-produced White Papers and Position Statements have focussed on the volatility of both gas and electricity pricing as well as the need for a clearer, more predictable pricing framework.
Additionally, UK electricity prices for an industry like ours do not compare favourably with other major markets. Electricity costs for a large energy user were estimated to be 65 per cent higher in the UK than the EU average when studied in 2019 and these higher prices and a growth in network costs are a potential issue for our manufacturers when it comes to global competitiveness.
Finding ways to help all industry with energy pricing over the coming years whilst meeting the UK’s carbon neutral targets is obviously key. But being as energy smart and efficient as you possibly can be at your plant can and will make a major contribution to the bottom line.
“How does this the move to more digital monitoring benefit the larger customer with multiple sites and a wide range of products?“
Bringing the entire data picture together can deliver some tangible, business advantages.
There is the obvious benefit of having that far more precise, much more immediate understanding of energy usage across the full span of your business, rather than perhaps a patchwork of slower reporting on a site-by-site basis.
There is also the opportunity to move to predictive maintenance rather than having a more reactive, fire-fighting approach which often tends to be costly.
For many global customers in this sector Siemens is also there to deliver high-level, strategic advice in terms of their future infrastructure and what are the most appropriate energy sources.
“On that last point Ian, what would be a good example to look at?“
A significant manufacturer is likely to operate a larger number of sites.
Typically, there could be older ‘legacy’ sites within a portfolio which might be four decades into service and they will not be particularly energy efficient.
Additionally, these facilities may not be in-line with agreed, future production standards the business is seeking to achieve.
So, our role is to identify the most cost-effective solutions, reporting and monitoring systems and provide an overall strategy for implementation and attaining those consistent standards.
However, a strong resilience and efficiency strategy is not just about supporting existing or legacy sites. The chemical production facilities of the future will require a lot of thought.
“What about the many small and medium enterprises (SME) that form such a key part of the industry? Do they have different energy priorities?“
We work with a very extensive range of SME customers and they make a significant contribution to the £80 million our industry contributes to the UK economy every day.
The advantages of connectivity are also very important for these customers because with additional, more visible data they can identify individual production processes which could be more energy efficient. Even a relatively small company which is using a process like electrolysis might have an annual electricity bill that runs into the many tens of thousands.
We are able to work in a direct, hands-on way with these customers, creating bespoke solutions for their facility. When you work with Siemens you get the advantage of speaking with the OEM who understands the entire energy picture rather than simply an installation and service supplier.
“Looking at the wider picture it does seem that the UK is progressing quicker than others in a non-carbon future but to achieve this energy costs will remain a factor for your industry and others.“
The costs of making these changes are in the market and will need to be shared by industries like ours as well the consumer. However, having the tools within your business to make it as energy efficient and resilient as it possibly can be is a sound strategy.
Supporting a site’s energy resilience is to provide complete visibility of electrical infrastructure performance and efficiency, minimising energy wastage and reducing costs. Find the answers to your energy resilience questions or book a site visit to discuss your challenges with our technical team here: wwww.siemens.co.uk/energy-resilience
For more information on the role of digitalisation in the chemical sector Siemens has recently contributed to a major report produced by the Chemical Industries Association. This can be found at www.cia.org.uk