Petrochemical Firms Can Use Digital Tools to Optimize Operational Efficiency in a Volatile Market

As external factors put pressure on petrochemical companies to remain profitable in an unstable market, they will need to focus on increasing operational efficiency.
Image source: Flickr CC user George Socka

The current volatility of the petrochemical market has put oil and gas firms in a tough position. With the marketplace in a constant state of flux, companies must strive to find ways to retain their competitive advantage. Unfortunately, the margin for error is extremely narrow. One small mistake could result in long-lasting repercussions.

Because of this, company heads have begun to focus on streamlining their business practices. For example, operational efficiency and manufacturing processes are two areas that can have a dramatic impact on maximizing long-term cost savings.1 Many petrochemical firms have invested in building new state-of-the-art facilities, complete with integrated software that supports these aims. While the upfront costs are not insignificant, they can still lead to record-breaking profit as demonstrated by the case of Shanghai Petrochemical. The group reported gains for the first three quarters of 2015, a reversal of fortune from the losses it experienced during the same time period last year.2 In fact, the company intends to continue its efforts to optimize existing infrastructures and cost-savings along with enhancing safety and environmental protection.

Petrochemical Companies Can Rely on Digital Tools to Maintain High Quality at Lowered Costs

One of the biggest dilemmas faced by the petrochemical industry is the fact that it’s losing its most experienced engineers to retirement. This so-called “Great Crew Change” couldn’t be coming at a worse time. The expertise needed to navigate existing challenges can often only be gained through experience. No matter how gifted a newly hired engineer may be, they simply may not have the knowledge needed to adapt existing operational processes into streamlined, modern workflows that maintain product integrity.

The presence of digital tools, however, can bridge the gap between the older generation of petrochemical engineers and the new one. An electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) or a chemical management system can preserve institutional knowledge, for example. Many companies know firsthand the difficulties that can arise when a long-time employee leaves. These problems can be relatively minor such as “Where did they store that reagent?” On the other hand, they can also be major. One seemingly insignificant procedural tweak might actually cut a protocol’s runtime in half. But if that tweak was never noted down anywhere, how will potential successors know to do it in the first place? Inadvertently increasing manufacturing time is definitely not the way to optimize operational efficiency.

An ELN not only preserves institutional knowledge; it also fosters increased collaboration and communication. The latest data and updated protocols can be shared in real time, no matter the location or time zone. While this ability may seem like a basic feature, it can form the foundation for product management that responds to current market trends.3 In today’s competitive market, a petrochemical company that can adapt to commercial demand quickly is one that can weather even the fiercest economic pressures.

In conjunction with an ELN, a chemical management system both tracks existing inventory—such as knowing where that crucial reagent was kept—and enhances environmental and health safety. Rather than wasting time flipping through paper binders to look up safety information, users can access chemical safety data sheets from within the software. Proper storage, safe handling, and correct disposal can all be referenced in seconds, which streamlines workflow while simultaneously boosting regulatory compliance.

Is your petrochemical firm interested in optimizing operational efficiency? Are you unsure about which digital tools are best-suited toward preserving institutional knowledge and streamlining chemical management? Please contact us today to more about the BIOVIA Notebook and BIOVIA CISPro.

  1. “Software innovation for production optimization drives efficiency,” October 17, 2015,
  2. “Shanghai Petrochemical Announces Results for the Third Quarter of 2015,” October 22, 2015,
  3. “Oil Refiners Get Nimble on Refining,” November 9, 2015,

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