Among all the emerging digital technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) may have the most potential to help chemical suppliers achieve disruptive changes in performance and value generation. Artificial intelligence technology may have a huge impact on value chains and profit pools in these chains, which will have a profound impact on the structure of the entire chemical industry. In Cefic's recent medium-term vision document "molecular manager", artificial intelligence is considered as one of the key digital technologies that Europe needs to master.
The potential of artificial intelligence technology
The term AI is used to describe machines and processes that mimic "cognitive" functions that are often associated with human thinking, such as "learning" and "problem solving.". "In digital technology, AI covers machine learning, reasoning, computer vision and speech recognition, as well as autonomous or self-organizing operations," said Dr. Martin winter, innovation manager of China Huaxin.
Artificial intelligence technology has great application potential in the early stage of product and process development, which can significantly accelerate innovation and achieve a more effective "idea to market" process. For example, in the experimental design phase, the efficiency of research can be improved by using artificial intelligence to access all previous relevant results and domain knowledge.
By integrating customer needs into the R & D process, AI will be able to respond to market and customer needs more quickly. Digitization will enable integration of life cycle thinking and advanced sustainability assessment capabilities to achieve targeted solutions.
Artificial intelligence can achieve optimization in all stages of the value chain and provide a target basis for value extraction. Data become the capital of reliable and accurate model, and become the basis of forecasting manufacturing and improving industrial competitiveness. Data can flow freely, from the design and sizing of the production process, to the installation and start-up stages, and finally to the operation and maintenance. The physical factory of manufacturing products is closely connected with the digital twin factory. The digital twin factory continuously uses the same data flow to simulate the operation, so as to further optimize the process, material and energy flow.
For chemical suppliers in Europe, AI can make industrial processes safer and cleaner, and help invent new molecules to meet specific customer needs, including improving roundness of materials.
What is long-term expectation
The long-term goal will be to develop artificial intelligence machines that can automatically provide optimization suggestions. Our expectation is that the machine will learn by observing the operator's interaction with the process control system and historical data. "Humans can usually only think and react linearly. They are able to learn and make decisions based on existing knowledge, but often lack the ability to really think multidimensional, "winter explains. "Machines can use all available data and 'learning' to help humans make better decisions. "Artificial intelligence should enhance human's reasoning and decision-making ability, not replace human.
"In general, AI is expected to liberate people from their daily work, promote better decision-making in the industry, achieve disruptive change, enhance global competitiveness, and promote carbon neutral economy and circular economy solutions," winter said
AI Investment: economy and human
The investment has been huge. Cefic's "molecular manager" document cites the European Commission's estimate that in 2016 alone, the global private sector invested more than 30 billion euros in artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence technology is developing very rapidly, but the adoption of artificial intelligence in the chemical industry is often challenging, which means that research and innovation actions need to be supported to accelerate the adoption of artificial intelligence technology. The new suschem strategic innovation and research agenda (Sira), which will be released in November, will detail research and innovation priorities in the field of artificial intelligence to support the sustainable chemical industry.
Specific AI solutions in the industry will create a huge demand for highly digital skilled human operators to develop, monitor and manage AI based operations. "As a result, investing in digital education and skills is also a very important priority," winter concluded
In the next few years, it will be very important for chemical suppliers to find the correct application of artificial intelligence technology, which can bring maximum benefits in reducing energy consumption, reducing environmental pollution, realizing comprehensive circular economy, reducing costs and improving product quality.
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