BASF 4.0 Initiative Forging Digital Links

Author / Editor: Anke Geipel-Kern* / Anke Geipel-Kern

BASF wants to forge digital links to connect manufacturers, service provide. The BASF 4.0 initiative will catapult the giant chemical company into the digital age. Included is a project with SAP built around a database which will be shared by suppliers, engineering partners and maintenance partners. In the future, information will flow in real time over digital communication links.

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Mobile devices make access to information more flexible.
Mobile devices make access to information more flexible.
(Source: BASF)

BASF continues to press ahead with Industry 4.0, and it is at the leading edge of digitalization nationwide.

We are really looking forward to the future," said Martin Brudermüller, Vice-Chairman of the BASF Executive Board, at the digital summit in Rhineland-Palatinate. Undoubtedly it was not entirely by coincidence that the event was held in Ludwigshafen. More than 1,000 visitors, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and nearly all of her cabinet ministers, had the opportunity to find out what BASF and its partners have accomplished.

The Chemical Industry Is Catching Up

The world's biggest chemical corporation has demonstrated extraordinary regenerative strength over the past 150 years, and Brudermüller has no doubt that the BASF 4.0 project launched in 2015 will make the corporation fit for the future. Despite the fact that market researchers and analysts are already predicting the decline of the old economy and are only thinking in terms of solution and service platforms, he stressed that the other side has not won the battle yet. This is a clear statement of intent to challenge companies like Google and Amazon.

At any rate, BASF has a clearly defined battle plan and goals. The intention is to develop new digital products and services that generate added value for the customers and improve process effectiveness and efficiency.

Improving Engineering and Maintenance

The BASF digitalization strategy has four major priorities: digital business models, smart supply chains, data-based research and smart manufacturing. The emphasis is on the use of digital technologies and utilization of process data. Preventive maintenance of the steam cracker, which is at the heart of the integrated Ludwigshafen site, is the beacon project. Every day of sub-­optimal performance or downtime at the cracker costs a lot of money. The process engineers are working hard to determine the functional state of critical systems and components, for example compressors and heat exchangers, in order to predict the optimal time for scheduling maintenance. Sensors capture live data about operational states. Special software is then used to generate models and perform analyses which include historical data.

An advanced technology subproject which recently got underway and will run for a number of months goes one step further. BASF is working together with SAP which will provide the SAP cloud-based IoT Asset Intelligence Network. The two companies began collaborating in the development phase where they were already working on the goal of connecting plant operators, manufacturers and service providers in the process industry. Equipment data from chemical systems will be collected on this platform and subsequently analyzed. The list of information includes operating and maintenance instructions, specifications, spare parts lists and sensor data relating to the current operating state of the equipment. Data from manufacturers, service providers and equipment operators is loaded onto the system. The result will be fully integrated, centrally managed information storage, a type of transparent asset. With this consolidated source of asset information, BASF wants to improve the efficiency of its engineering and maintenance workflows over the entire life cycle.

The company is constantly optimizing its sites, equipment and production processes, pointed out Dr. Andreas Wernsdörfer, Senior Vice President Technical Service Ludwigshafen, BASF. "The SAP Asset Intelligence Network approach has the potential to further improve our engineering and maintenance processes by creating a fully integrated digital information highway between manufacturers, service providers and BASF.

A Landmark Project

The project is still in the evaluation phase, but it carries a lot of prestige and could have an impact on the entire industry, to say nothing of the significance for equipment manufacturers. SAP Executive Vice President Dr. Tanja Rückert is aware of that and is working with big players to further expand the Asset Intelligence Network and place the crucial stakes in the ground.