The times when plant operators operated the same plant for 20 years are over, and not only in the chemical industry. In addition, a whole generation of experienced specialists will soon be retiring. The industry is also constantly facing new challenges to produce more efficiently, safely and sustainably. However, advancing digitalisation is also creating new opportunities: Qualification, enhanced reality and digital twins are decisive factors in successfully shaping this change.
In the chemical industry, it is therefore crucial that professionals and decision-makers continuously expand their skills and familiarise themselves with the latest developments. A solid qualification enables employees to take advantage of new technologies and drive digital transformation in the chemical industry. This is currently accompanied by increasing demands on personnel, personnel that is not easy to find – keyword being shortage of skilled workers. They also have to master greater complexity and cover larger areas of work, writes Dr Susanna Voges in the trade magazine ‘ProCess’.
The reality in the industry shows that plant operators often have no choice but to hire lateral entrants without a coherent basic technical training. Enhanced reality, a combination of augmented reality and virtual reality, offers great potential for improving processes and training in this case. By simulating realistic work environments, employees can be trained in a safe environment and existing processes can be optimised.
Consequences, Solutions And Process Optimisation
The consequences of this lack of technical training are manifold and vary depending on the situation of the company. There may even be unplanned plant shutdowns due to staff shortages – not necessarily because there are too few staff in general, but because there is a lack of staff with specific skills. Moreover, new employees may even feel left alone and overwhelmed. Inadequate operational training leads not least to an accumulation of operating errors, which in turn can lead to environmental and health risks as well as unplanned plant breakdowns and costly repairs.
The digital twin, combined with enhanced reality applications, is a virtual representation of a physical plant that makes it possible to simulate, monitor and optimise processes. Employees can thus learn practical knowledge of how to operate a plant step by step without consuming resources or even causing disruptions. A correspondingly lower error rate is also useful and beneficial for both sides – companies and employees.
With the help of VR glasses and photo-realistic representations, it is also possible to enter plants virtually in order to plan maintenance work or rectify faults. By using digital twins and enhanced reality, decision-makers and experts can react quickly to changes in processes and thus increase productivity. Likewise, these models can be used to test new plants and processes before they are implemented in reality.