Materials leaders Dow Inc. and Covestro L.L.C. are working with Industry 4.0—both internally and with the plastics processors that use their products.
Industry 4.0 generally is described as the fourth industrial revolution, one that uses smart factories, automation, integration and the Internet of Things. For Dow, Industry 4.0 "is a good opportunity to improve our customer experience and employ our expertise," according to Billy Bardin, global digitalization director with the Midland, Mich.-based firm.
Dow, a major supplier of polyethylene and specialty resins, is using Industry 4.0 methods to improve market integration, anticipate market needs and improve customers' ordering experience, Bardin added in a recent interview with Plastics News.
"We can engage in online product selection with customers and customers' customers in the value chain," he said.
Industry 4.0 also can apply to operations via product safety and "can touch all aspects of customer interaction," he added. "If we can anticipate what the market needs, we can target those needs and improve our tech service and manufacturing."
At Covestro, a Pittsburgh-based materials firm that's a unit of Covestro A.G. of Leverkusen, Germany, the approach to Industry 4.0 revolves around three pillars: operations, interaction with customers and how to enable through digital technology, according to innovation management head Currie Crookston.
"Across the spectrum, (Industry 4.0) can bring a lot of changes to operations by gathering a lot of data," he said in a recent interview. "We can then use that data to improve how we operate; we can avoid shutdowns and improve yields."
On the customer side, Crookston said that Industry 4.0 has allowed Covestro to create digital trading platforms—no-touch ordering systems that he said "can handle some complexity." One Covestro platform recently incorporated a new app for polycarbonate resin that can help customers assess different types of materials.
As with many newer initiatives, Industry 4.0 sometimes can have a learning curve for customers at both Dow and Covestro. "Ultimately, you have to compete with everything else for resources, people and cash," said Bardin at Dow.
He described customers' reactions to Industry 4.0 efforts so far as mixed. "We have some customers that are heavily engaged in the digital experience—larger players who adopt technology to speed their processes and product development.
"But it depends on the size of the organization and how much resources they have. It's about how to best serve their needs," he added. "Most manufacturers now have a chief digital officer or a close equivalent. They look at technology as a way to drive improvements from a manufacturing perspective. They can look at their own productivity and cost savings and potential for production growth."