Innovation In The Chemical Industry: Real-World Examples

Stefan Guertzgen

A recent S.M.A.C. Talk Technology Podcast delves into the trends that make the global chemical industry tick and how its progressive use of technology appears to be reshaping grassroots businesses within the sector.

Hosted by Brian Fanzo and Daniel Newman, the 15-minute audio interview of industry expert Thorsten Wenzel, vice president of the worldwide chemical business unit of SAP, illuminates some practical success stories.

Without a doubt, Wenzel possesses a cutting-edge and global understanding of the chemical sector, where the forward-looking innovation resides and misconceptions about the industry’s willingness to embrace technology. He points out that industry analysts have too often claimed chemical-focused companies had fallen behind other industries.

“A digital transformation is not really new for the chemical industry,” Wenzel says. “We are doing that since 25 years, and if you think about it, there’s lots of truth about that at the plant level where a lot of automatization efforts and digitalization efforts were done in the last 20 years already.

“But on the other side, if you talk to analysts and compare industries, it seems to be that the chemical industry is somehow a laggard and little bit delayed in comparison to other industries, which are way more advanced in that. So this is somehow contradictory, but I can tell you, wherever I go, whenever I talk to customers, digital transformation and IoT topics are on top of the agenda.”

He also sees things such as predictive maintenance, shutdowns, turnaround, outages, and profitability as driving force issues going forward. But Wenzel enjoys the unique talent of breaking down complex theoretical ideas into tangible lessons. And real-life success stories are things non-theorists can really wrap their heads around.

Technology transforms businesses in practical ways

During the podcast, Wenzel provides examples that make sense to real meat-and-potatoes business decision-makers. During his time in the chemical industry, he watched as a paint outfit completely shifted its marketing strategy and to some extent, its customer base by integrating virtual technology.

“Let me just give you one example: This is Asian Paints from India, which was the classical producer selling their paints and coatings via the classical channels; wholesale, distribution, the big supermarkets,” Wenzel says. “And they confirmed … They changed their business model from a just producing-oriented model to a more service-oriented model. That means today, Asian Paints is a company which visits the big customers they have, like companies with big corporate offices, offices that would like to change their interior, who want to paint their offices in a new way.”

Asian Paints, Wenzel says, changed directions by integrating virtual design applications. These programs allowed them to go into high-end corporate spaces, photograph, image, and create design proposals for the customer. They transformed from a one-dimensional manufacturer to a “service-oriented” outfit that went beyond just selling paint products. Basically, virtual design helped them become profitable on two fronts.

In the agricultural industry, organizations like Monsanto have morphed from product producers and sellers to developing hands-on relationships with salt-of-the-earth farmers.

“Monsanto is doing something where they really use machine learning for seed optimization,” Wenzel says. “They let the machine bring out the seeds, put on the fertilizer, the plant protection chemicals, and then see which plants grow best and what do we have to do from the seeds producer perspective to really have the optimum seed portfolio for our customers, plus plant protection, plus disease protection. So that’s an interesting thing we are seeing with these customers, both based on machine learning.”

By using machine learning, farmers can convey images directly to Monsanto, which can advise them on plant-protection and seed protocols. Just as IoT, Big Data, and blockchain provide beginning-to-end technology that has reformed much of the retail industry, the chemical sector is immersed in stakeholder connectivity.

Regardless of insider and outsider differences of opinion about the chemical industry embracing technology, digital transformation is having a profound impact on businesses and the economic advancement of people everywhere. That extends from the chemical product manufacturer to the end customer. In effect, things like digital boardrooms put all the key stakeholders in the same virtual space.

Take 15 minutes while enjoying your beverage of choice and immerse yourself in the cutting-edge thinking of this S.M.A.C. Talk Technology Podcast featuring SAP chemical industry expert Thorsten Wenzel.

Hear the full episode here. Learn how to innovate at scale by incorporating individual innovations back to the core business to drive tangible business value by reading Accelerating Digital Transformation in Chemicals.


About Stefan Guertzgen

Dr. Stefan Guertzgen is the Global Director of Industry Solution Marketing for Chemicals at SAP. He is responsible for driving Industry Thought Leadership, Positioning & Messaging and strategic Portfolio Decisions for Chemicals.