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Optimisation of production processes is currently the principal topic of concern in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. This is the conclusion drawn from a broad-based survey conducted by the editorial staff among 1200 decision makers in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. In July we contacted top managers, plant and production managers, as well as engineers, planners, and process developers by mail in order to ask their opinion of current trends in plant projects and the importance of the topic “operational excellence”. With the following result: The 62 re-spondents are of the unanimous persuasion that aspects of process optimisation will have to play a greater role in future plant planning processes.

65% of the respondents stated that considerable attention is currently being focussed on the optimisation of produc-tion processes in their companies. And this has consequences: Some 67% of the survey participants report specific process optimisation projects, mainly with the goal of securing and improving quality and cutting costs. Among the concepts adopted for optimisation, greatest use (50%) is made of continuous process improvement (CPI). One quarter eachclaimed to work with the methods process simulation, TPM, Kaizen, and Six Sigma. In contrast, Front Loading, Lean Six Sigma, value flow analysis are less well known.
Among the answers to the question about the potential for success of process optimisation measures, the highest rating goes to staff training followed directly by basic engineering. In other words,whether plant operator or planner – there appears to be a broad recognition that early stipulation of the process parameters offers considerable leverage for lowering the subsequent operating costs. This is an aspect of particular importance for the plant construction contractors because they have an opportunity to present themselves in a good light by demonstrating their competence when competing for the contract.
This is also confirmed by the ranking given to other measures: It is logical that detail engineering is assigned considerably less significance. However, two of the results are surprising: On the one hand, one third of the respondents stated that IT tools for production optimisation tend to be of less significance and 19% of the participants consider automation to be of secondary importance; only 29% think that automation measures are very important.

Suppliers are the Beneficiaries

Plant construction has experienced an unprecedented boom in recent years which has also altered the respectiveroles of plant operators, contractors, and suppliers of plant components. The position of operators as contract awarders in this constellation is nowadays weakest, whereas that of suppliers is much strong-er than just five years ago. Moreover, the plant planners now also have more weight in this triangle and are in a posi-tion to turn down less lucrative contracts or to influence the terms of contracts in their favour.

However, it is less clear whether the change in risk distribution due to the high level of capacity utilisation in plant construction is of a permanent nature: 35% believe it is, 23% disagree, and 42% consider this view to be partly valid. It is perfectly clear, on the other hand, that on-time procurement of plant components is often difficult these days. And a good proportion of the persons polled would undertake more plant projects but suffer from a shortage of technical staff or service providers.

Conclusion: Optimisation of produc-tion processes is currently an importanttopic for most chemical and pharmaceutical companies. A variety of concepts is being applied. Plant operators or planners recognise that aspects of process optimisation must play a greater role in the planning phase of plant projects. And: Due to the high level of capacity utilisa-tion in plant construction, plant operators are now in a weaker position than just five years ago, whereas contractors and above all suppliers of plant components see their position strengthened.

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