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Enabling sustainable competitive advantage and feeding our future with technology

December is the time of the year when most of us reflect back on the past year, and make plans for the new one—and beyond.

As we wrap up 2017, I’d like to take this opportunity to launch the first blog in a new series where I will share examples of digital leadership in the chemicals and agrochemicals industry. If you look back to 2011, we held the 6th Annual Digital Pharma Conference in Wiesbaden. Microsoft, our partners, and industry leaders from the chemicals and pharmaceuticals industries came together to discuss and envision a future where technology would play a crucial role in driving innovation and business success. The industry landscape was evolving, as governments and investors were demanding optimized carbon footprints and business partners and consumers were proving to be environmentally sensitive in their buying behavior.

At the end of last year, Microsoft expanded its artificial intelligence efforts with the creation of a new Microsoft AI and Research Group. Our deep investments in artificial intelligence (AI) are advancing state-of-the-art developments in machine intelligence and perception, enabling computers to understand what they see, communicate, answer complex questions, and interact with their environment.

Digital technology is not only transforming our lives, businesses and the world, but it is also generating an exponential growth in data and information. Today’s assets are more intelligent, thanks to technologies such as AI and machine learning.

To keep up with the vast amounts of data we are generating every day, we must fulfill the needs of industry standards such as GxP, PPDM, OPC UA or NERC CIP, which are requirements to ensure the reliability of the electrical system. This work guarantees that all content that is housed in the cloud meets a wide range of regulatory compliance guidelines, which are very prevalent in the chemicals, agrochemicals and energy sectors.

Over these last several years, Microsoft has invested in industry-specific knowledge and expertise. Instead of offering technologies, we look at the impact that our technologies have on our customers. We analyze industries: What powers them? What is key to their success? And we boost the knowledge exchange between our partner and customers at our Executive Briefing Centers and our Microsoft Technology Centers around the world.

As we help our customers along their digital transformation journeys, one area remains critical across all segments, and that is sustainability.  Across sustainability, there are four key areas that we focus on to help our customers achieve digital success:

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Predictive Maintenance

Today’s assets can use embedded software and analytics to:

  • Diagnose and signal their status and performance
  • Predict possible malfunctions and maintenance needs
  • Utilize mixed reality (3D asset visualization) and digital twins to enhance maintenance and service

One of my favorite examples of this work is with BASF, who is using an OSISoft PI system based on Metrix SETPOINT to stream and track vibration data and archive overall trends in its equipment monitoring machines. This system eliminates the need for a separate, stand-alone condition monitoring software environment. In addition to eliminating redundant infrastructure, the combination of having vibration data and control data in the same system supports earlier diagnosis of equipment issues. BASF is able to link field data directly back to a single server and have all of the relevant data available in one view. The company can access its data anytime, anywhere. As a result, BASF is able to better utilize assets, avoid unexpected failures, and reduce capital replacement costs.

Operational Excellence

Chemical firms can greatly improve decision making by:

  • Simulating reactions based on data
  • Blending all of their manufacturing data
  • Analyzing data in real time
  • Gaining insights through predictive analytics

These capabilities enable more efficient operations, improved safety practices, and sustainable environmental performance.

Deschutes Brewery is transforming its beer-making with data science. To increase operational excellence and production capacity with existing equipment, the brewery integrated an onsite OSIsoft PI System that is used to collect and manage production data with Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite. By using predictive analytics to increase fermentation capacity, Deschutes Brewery anticipates that it can save an average of 48 hours for every batch of beer across 8-10 brands year-round, while being able to adjust recipes or fermentation to keep taste and aroma aligned with the company’s exacting standards. By integrating the OSIsoft PI System with Cortana Intelligence Suite, Deschutes has been able to identify opportunities for process efficiency all the way down the production line. The result is more great beer without significant capital investment.

Smart Products and Connected Logistics

By leveraging blockchain solutions and real-time tracking, chemical firms can:

  • Simulate product design to reduce time to market
  • Proactively mitigate supply chain risks
  • Ensure the quality and authenticity of products in transit

Syngenta is a great example of a company that is turning data into insight through connected logistics. Using its trademarked Enogen genetic biotechnology, Syngenta develops seeds for ethanol plants with traits such as insect resistance or water optimization. The company’s challenge was to develop a way to demonstrate that investing in Enogen technology would increase plant efficiency and yield, while reducing overall costs. This is where a Connected Services agreement with Microsoft partner OSIsoft came in. Syngenta asked OSIsoft to deploy its PI System—supported by Microsoft technologies—so that staff could access and analyze plant data to quantify the operational benefits of Enogen corn. As an example of these benefits, Enogen corn-enabled efficiency improvements in a 100-million-gallon plant include savings of more than 68 million gallons of water, and nearly 10 million kilowatt hours of electricity. The flexibility of OSIsoft’s Connected Services allows Syngenta to expand its data services as more ethanol plants adopt Enogen technology.

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Precision Farming

Today’s farmers want to produce higher yields using fewer chemicals in a very precise way. Called “precision farming,” this approach relies on an ecosystem of farmers, agribusiness suppliers, equipment manufacturers, traders, and technology providers. These stakeholders need a secure, data–enabled platform for accessing and sharing data to support the food value chain. Agrochemical companies are building solutions and rethinking business models that fuel this ecosystem with “seed and fertilizer as a service.”

Our partner, Schneider Electric, is doing excellent work to extend its EcoStruxure offering, a digital backbone connecting best-in-class OT solutions with the latest in IT technology, to unlock trapped operational value, to deliver innovation at every level—from the cloud to the edge. A great example of this is how Wonderware and SITAM are increasing plant treatment productivity at Bayer CropScience with the FROGSS Project (Fungicide Rotating Greenhouse Spraying System). This system automates the spraying of plant sets from a loading zone; the drying of sprayed solutions; the classification of plants, by disease and in trolleys; the washing and storing of the sets used in a storage zone; and the identification of treated sets and pots. In addition to automating these processes, traceability is accomplished throughout the entire installation from taking the set, to arranging the pots, including spraying.

The chemicals industry has been a driver of global growth for decades; indeed, many of the world’s largest and most innovative companies are chemical manufacturers. Technology plays an increasingly strategic role in fostering this innovation, as well as things like sustainable practices, and differentiation in the marketplace. Advanced technological capabilities allow chemical and agrochemical manufacturers to transform their business processes to enable systems of intelligence that draw better insight from data and convert it to intelligent action.

And that is what will enable us to sustainably improve health, feed the world, provide safe energy and water, and fuel economic prosperity.

In my next blog, I will explore how Microsoft makes agrochemical operations wired and data-driven. We will also share how EY and Microsoft have and are developing a broad set of technology capabilities to enable our clients‘ digital agriculture strategies.


Download our Empowering the Agriculture Industry paper

Twitter: @Schroeer