June 27th 2020 marked the fourth Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (MSME) day, established by the International Council for Small Businesses (ICSB).
Along with online events, the ICSB published its annual report highlighting not only the importance of MSMEs as they relate to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals but also calling for further political and regulatory support for the sector as the global economy looks to make a recovery.
Concept of a green economy
Ahmed Osman, President of the ICSB, used the annual report to share his perspectives on the future for MSMEs in the post pandemic world and posed the question ‘What is the new normal for MSMEs?’
‘There are six key factors every MSME or start-up needs to keep in mind post Covid-19,’ Osman stated, the first of these being financial assessment and security. Encouraging MSMEs to put in place a financial action plan, obtaining information about government relief packages and getting a clear picture of investor expectations, Osman said; ‘Once this financial risk assessment and support ecosystem are in place, one can execute the plan. This may involve deciding on a potential pay cut, pull back on investments related to infrastructure or expansion, halting new recruitment etc…’
Digital Business and Technology Concept
Having secured the financial footing the next factor was to re-evaluate the business plan in light of the new conditions. Osman stressed the importance of involving all stakeholders to come up with a mutually agreed set of new targets. The third factor to consider, according to Osman, was creating a ‘strong digital ecosystem.’ ‘If there is one thing that Covid-19 has taught businesses. It is the power of digital engagement. Even as an MSME, it helps to be present and active on digital media…Additionally, a digitally enabled internal ecosystem also needs to be in place that can accommodate remote working…without compromising data security or productivity of employees.’
The fourth factor Osman highlighted was adoption of the fourth revolution for business. ‘…This is also time to leverage the new age technology innovations and adopt the fourth revolution for business. While most SMEs and MSMEs look at this as an ‘out of league’ investment, it is actually very simple and can be incorporated for a higher ROI in the long run. Be it automation, CRM, ERP, IoT, a well planned strategy to scale to technology-enabled, highly productive next generation business can be worked out with a two to three year plan,’ Osman said.
Bulb future technology
Less reliance on physical space was the fifth factor Osman highlighted, anticipating a reversal in the trend that led to increasing the number of people in an office and home working becoming more normal.
The final factor Osman highlighted was the need to have a crisis management strategy in place. ‘It is vital to chalk up an effective crisis management plan that will take into consideration both immediate and long-term impact,’ he said.
Encouraging MSMEs to take stock, Osman asked ‘How did you help in the great pandemic? Quantify what you did for your employees, customers, community and country. Leverage the opportunity to build a better business, have credible solutions to the new major challenge and think globally act locally.’
In recent years, companies in chemicals and other process industries have been giving much greater priority to process safety improvements, and a safety culture has been created among employees.
Consequently, industrial incidents have been decreasing, particularly in North America and Europe. In the US, a total in 2016 of 213 incidents – covering leaks, fires, explosions, and injuries – was the lowest for 10 years, according to figures from the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Responsible Care programme. The ACC’s member companies operate about 2,000 facilities – in 2016, half of its members had no incidents.
Now, chemical companies are confident they can reduce this even further. LyondellBasell, the US-based petrochemicals and polymers multinational, is aiming under its GoalZero programme for no incidents at all. BASF has set itself a goal of an annual rate of process safety incidents of at least 0.5 per one million working hours by 2025 – a quarter of the level in 2015.
Digitalisation should massively improve safety through initiatives like the use of sensors to signal deficiencies in equipment. Labelled Industry 4.0, digitisation represents the fourth generation of industrialisation. It has the potential to revolutionise the whole value chain in chemicals and other industries, particularly the manufacturing stages.
In manufacturing, digitalisation can lower costs and improve efficiencies from labour to research and development. In process safety, the main advantages are automation via plant monitoring sensors, drastically reducing manpower. Digitalisation can bring down maintenance costs by as much as 40%, and reduce total plant downtime by 30–50%.
Industry 4.0 is not just about collecting and delivering huge amounts of data to central points, but also about processing and analysing big data. With process safety, it provides analytics platforms for achieving significant improvements in safety performance. A key feature of the current digitalisation wave is that the automation system can be designed in-house by company employees, using computer tools supplied by software specialists. This enables companies to tailor how they use the new technology.
BASF scientists celebrate the installation of its new supercomputer. Image: BASF
BASF has embarked on an ambitious digitalisation programme with the aid of a supercomputer installed this summer at its main site at Ludwigshafen. A primary purpose of the supercomputer is to boost the company’s R&D performance, but it will also make a substantial contribution to advancing process safety.
Martin Brudermueller, BASF vice-chairman and chief technology officer, said in June 2017, ‘As long as we have the data we can use the supercomputer to analyse the causes of process safety incidents. But we are more likely to use it to introduce safer process systems – how we can predict and prevent accidents happening with the help of sensors. We will be able to work out, for example, the level of seriousness of warning signs from sensors, particularly in relation to the degradation of materials.’
Meanwhile, German speciality chemicals company, Evonik has seen its rate of incident frequency more than halved since 2008, likely due partly to the application of digital technologies. It wants to use automation to identify and prevent process safety risks.
German polymers and coatings producer Covestro has started collecting data from its plants worldwide on every leak, as well as minor and near-miss incidents. The data are carefully analysed to determine causes, with the results and corrective actions being publicised throughout the group.
Chemicals and other process industries have a long history of collecting, interconnecting and analysing data to gain added value, but OSIsoft has warned that the large amounts of data yielded by digitalisation will be a big test for existing IT systems.
Some process safety specialists fear that digitalisation could also lead technical staff to become disengaged from safety issues as responsibilities for checking equipment outside control rooms become automated.
‘To be successful, digitalisation projects in areas like process safety need to be matched properly with human factors,’ explains David Embrey, a consultant at Human Reliability in Dalton, Lancashire. ‘Some schemes can be too technology-centric, with not enough consideration of interaction with people.
‘The introduction of new technologies always brings new risks. For a start, will the digital technologies be accepted by the workforce when they are replacing tasks done by humans?’
The ultimate objective behind digitalisation is analytics. Huge amounts of data can be accumulated to create algorithms that tell companies what to do to increase productivity and raise efficiencies, for example through big cuts in downtime as a result of decreases in process safety incidents.