By Shell Polymers on Jul 16, 2020
In addition to the impact on people’s health and livelihoods, COVID-19 has disrupted the manufacturing landscape and many of the C-suite executives and owners of plastic converter companies are starting to consider the virus’ longer-term implications on their businesses.
For example, before the crisis, many manufacturers were engaged and optimistic about Industry 4.0 technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and big data. They offered converters opportunities for competitive advantage and momentum was building. Now, businesses may be reappraising Industry 4.0 in light of the current situation.
Plastics converters and other manufacturers aren’t without their roadblocks to implementing Industry 4.0, however. Top challenges towards embracing these new technologies include knowledge gaps, cost concerns, and the pace of change in the rapidly-evolving Industry 4.0 environment.
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After seeing many businesses leveraging digital solutions in order to remain operational through the crisis, and the need for social distancing and running plants with less staff is likely to continue for some time. Polymer expert, Elliot Carnevale, Technical Service Engineer, Shell Polymers, suggests that the virus could actually push the Industry 4.0 accelerator pedal, and with good reason. There is a widespread belief that these technologies can increase productivity, cut maintenance costs, extend equipment life, reduce labor costs, enhance efficiency and improve safety.
Similarly, demand patterns for certain products may be dramatically different in the future, so Dan Falla, Senior Technical Service Engineer, Shell Polymers, says that agility and a willingness to embrace change will be key. “Some converters may need to retool their facilities to manufacture different products,” he says.
For example, effectively using polymer processing aids (PPA) can have a major impact on an extrusion line’s product quality and output and, therefore, its economics. PPAs can enable producers to improve film surface properties, lower motor load, and reduce downtime, among other benefits.
“There are likely to be opportunities for converters in new and exciting areas, so it will be crucial that businesses stay up-to-date with the latest thinking, technology capabilities, and product trends,” he continues. “For example, one interesting area that is emerging is sterile and anti-viral packaging, whereby you build pathogen-fighting technology into a film structure.”
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