Digitalization How Lanxess is driving forward digital transformation

Author / Editor: Harald Betteldorf* / Gerd Kielburger

Specialty chemicals company Lanxess is taking on a mammoth task and digitalizing all its process engineering, electrical engineering and automation documentation — including lifecycle management. Uniform plant and project documentation and comprehensive data management will increase quality and efficiency in production and maintenance operations going forward.

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A Lanxess employee performing an installation check for Laux operations in Uerdingen. All the important information can be retrieved at a few clicks of a button because all the piping and instrumentation flow diagrams for the plant and all the process control technology data are available in Comos.
A Lanxess employee performing an installation check for Laux operations in Uerdingen. All the important information can be retrieved at a few clicks of a button because all the piping and instrumentation flow diagrams for the plant and all the process control technology data are available in Comos.
(Bild: Lanxess)

Digital technologies enhance capacity, improve processes and increase occupational safety. They also make production and business processes more tightly interlinked. Digital transformation in the chemical industry was ushered in some time ago by industry 4.0. But the notion of more and more processes, events and even production steps being managed by computers has now become so appealing that data, databases and networks are playing an increasingly important role; the transformation of analog to digital structures is a mammoth undertaking. Anyone who has ever taken a look at the inner workings of a chemical plant will have an idea that it is not so easy to reduce the many boilers, pieces of apparatus, pipelines, pumps, valves and cables “to a single common denominator.” The starting point for a traditional plant involved in conventional engineering is generally a cross-section of several decades of apparatus construction and various generations of process control technology installations comprising technology from several countries. Documenting such a heterogeneous technical landscape featuring isolated, often intra-departmental data islands and individual documentation solutions often involves manual data transfers between the separate tools and disciplines. This is detrimental to processing efficiency and can also lead to a lack of consistency between different data assets. Lanxess has now set itself the task of improving this situation on a long-term basis.

The specialty chemicals company set up a project team early on that will be in charge of migrating the plant documentation for all operations at five locations and across all trades for industry 4.0 applications. The requirement was to improve plant operation and management across the entire asset lifecycle based on an intelligent and shared data platform. These considerations prompted the decision to set up a pilot project at a representative production plant. In 2018, Lanxess launched such a project to implement Comos. The insights gained revealed that – despite heterogeneous documentation – it is possible to digitalize a plant, even one that is over 100 years old, at reasonable cost and effort. A workshop attended by persons in charge from production and technology, the central unit for production-related services and IT recommended the Group-wide introduction of Comos for this purpose, and this action was approved by the Lanxess Board of Management in August 2019.

Comos, a state-of-the-art tool for all sectors of the process industry, offers a single solution for consistent plant and project documentation and comprehensive information management. The open architecture also provides a variety of options to interact with customers, providers and contractors.

“Every single cable needs to go into Comos”

The Siemens software simplifies the integrated management of chemical production facilities – from planning to operation and upgrading all the way through to future dismantling. Planners and operators can access all project-related data objects at all times. There is no separation of trades or specialist disciplines; rather, the software solution takes a function-oriented approach and systematically performs complete integration of all processes. This close dovetailing makes a vital contribution to greater plant availability and reliability. Consistent data management within the entire plant lifecycle results in higher data quality and minimizes the costs associated with documenting plant changes. The “single point of truth” principle applies, which is the practice of managing data in one place but using it for various applications.

All the data relating to a single component, like a pump for example, constitutes a unit or object. Each object exists only once in the Comos database. This ensures that specifications that are changed within a certain trade are always universally visible for all disciplines from the object itself and stored in the central database – for a reliable, consistent data base. This means that the relevant users have access to all the relevant, up-to-date data and properties of an object anytime, anywhere – reducing data complexity significantly and thus increasing transparency.

Introducing Comos requires data that may already be available electronically in various systems to be migrated and consolidated, and any data that is not yet digitally available to be recorded. This involves designing, implementing and testing routines for transferring the data to Comos in as highly automated a manner as possible.

Pilot project already complete

In 2018, Lanxess launched a two-year pilot project to implement Comos in pigment production at the Krefeld-Uerdingen site, Germany, which is where the specialty chemicals company produces iron oxide and chrome oxide pigments for many applications at what is the world’s largest production facility for inorganic color pigments.

The history of the site, size of the operation and variety of the production base were all key factors in the decision to set up the pilot project at this location. The project team gained a lot of insights from the project.

The process of reworking the database from the P&IDs was more complicated in the course of the pilot project than originally estimated. Consequently, two highly automated processes are now being used for the subsequent rollout project. One is a program development from Siemens/Unitec, and the other is PIDGraph by Bilfinger. This cuts down the level of reworking involved to a tenth of the original amount.

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After over a year of project work, the employees and supporting service providers are committed to the project. One factor that is largely responsible for this is the intuitive navigation system of Comos, which yields information very quickly and straightforwardly and allows connections to be identified in an integrated manner – with employees no longer having to painstakingly compare different documents. To be able to use the software effectively, other system operations need to be learned beyond just the drawing, so all users are given appropriate training in how to use the system.

The increase in efficiency is expected to result in investment project savings, not just for engineering but also in terms of overall project costs. The improved data quality as such already represents an efficiency gain. As it stands, the database structure already allows for a high level of transparency with regard to projects and changes. As P&ID data from process control technology documents is integrated, automated comparisons can be made with data exports from the project planning level of the operating project control system, making deviations easy to identify. Possible differences may have come from the local management of different data sources, whereas the migration of databases to Comos has created data transparency. The actions of digitalizing, migrating and integrating already electronically available data across various systems were not as complicated as originally anticipated. The database structure as it is now already gives a dramatically improved level of transparency in projects and in the daily MOC (management of change) process.

Digitalization of piping and instrumentation flow diagrams

Not all documents can be transferred to Comos without involving manual rework. For this reason, some of the piping and instrumentation flow diagrams are being digitalized using a program development from company Unitec, the project supplier who performed P&ID migration for Siemens, and the rest using PIDGraph. The latter is a piece of software developed by Bilfinger’s Heidelberg-based digital subsidiary Digital Next. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically transfer the P&IDs of a process plant to Comos, paying particular attention to customer-specific customizing in the target system (Comos).

The main difference between the two systems is that Bilfinger uses pattern recognition, whereas Siemens and Unitec use a layer structure comprising drawings, metadata from symbol blocks and text, and geometric keys.

One challenge that should not be overlooked in digitalizing plant documentation is data security, as the documents contain highly sensitive, confidential information. The adoption of extremely high IT security standards allowed Siemens and Bilfinger to safeguard this data at all times and carry out the project for Lanxess entirely by remote access during the coronavirus pandemic.

High tech behind historic walls

Rollout phase 1 of the Lanxess digitalization project started at the beginning of 2020 and encompasses eight operations at the Lower Rhine plants in Leverkusen and Krefeld-Uerdingen, Germany, and in Antwerp, Belgium. The diversity and scale of the project scope is implied by the number of P&IDs that need to be transformed, with the number of P&IDs in low double-digit territory, with the largest operation having more than ten times as many flow diagrams.

One of these operations involves thionyl at the Leverkusen sulfuric acid production plant. For 125 years, chemicals have been produced there that are needed in many different areas of production and life. The history of the Lanxess sulfuric acid plant began in 1894, and even today a 36-meter-long remnant of the building façade provides a lasting reminder of the plant’s long history. The brick wall, which is listed as a historic monument, houses not just Lanxess’s most long-standing production plant in Leverkusen, but also one of the most cutting-edge facilities of its kind in Europe.

Digitalization of global plants and facilities

Comos will be rolled out to all other plants at the sites in Leverkusen, Dormagen, Uerdingen, Brunsbüttel (all Germany) and Antwerp (Belgium) over the course of a second project phase between 2022 and 2023. The plants in Mannheim and Bitterfeld (both Germany) could follow suit in a third phase in addition to further company plants around the globe.

Experts are on hand to help employees convert paper, Word and Excel lists into a uniform digital format. Web-based training manuals featuring “click-by-click instructions” are available to give technicians, fitters, electricians and planners a helping hand as they move toward the new Lanxess standard.

Lanxess is continuing to advance the digitalization of its production operations on other fronts as well, with the specialty chemicals company implementing a system for analyzing time series data across large sections of its global plants and facilities. The self-service analytics platform Trendminer by Software AG has been deployed at almost two thirds of the company’s 120 or so plants, including all the major production sites in Germany, Belgium, the USA and India. Only smaller plants with less complex processes are yet to be included in the implementation scope.

Production employees can use Trendminer to independently analyze production processes and measurement data, identify patterns and trends in this data and thereby detect production irregularities. In initial projects since the rollout in 2020, thanks to Trendminer Lanxess has been able to significantly increase its capacity utilization in individual plants, optimize resource utilization and lower its maintenance costs. In some cases, the savings were in the six-figure euro range.

Over the next three years, Lanxess will be introducing mobile operational management and maintenance. Instead of manually filling out around 400,000 operational management and maintenance checklists a year on clipboards, in the future the company will use digital pendants. In partnership with Lo.Go.Motion, Siemens introduced the software solution Moby.Check in early 2021. It operates on tablets and is controlled using either the keyboard or voice commands. It allows users to create their own production, servicing and maintenance checklists – without any programming work whatsoever or any prior training. ●

* * The author is Head of Project Controls in the Product, Technology, Safety and Environment (PTSE) Group Function of Lanxess Deutschland GmbH Contact: