Process optimization in chemical manufacturing
I’ve spent years working in various chemical manufacturing facilities as an EHS specialist. One of the most critical components of a successful EHS program in this environment is process optimization.
In this blog post, I want to discuss what process optimization is, why it’s important, and what the best practices are for pursuing it at your company.
What is process optimization?
Process optimization is the practice of improving a process by increasing efficiency, lowering costs, and reducing safety risks.
In the context of chemical manufacturing, process optimization involves modifying equipment, procedures, or raw materials to either improve the quality of the final product or to make the manufacturing process itself more efficient.
Why is process optimization important?
Chemical manufacturers should implement optimization strategies for a variety of reasons:
- Optimized processes can help reduce costs by minimizing waste, reducing energy consumption, and improving throughput.
- Manufacturers can use optimization strategies to produce a higher-quality product and do so more consistently.
- This approach may reduce the risk of accidents, spills, injuries, and other types of health and safety incidents.
In chemical manufacturing, high product quality (and the consistency with which it’s achieved) are extremely important. That’s because the product can have a major impact on consumer health and environmental safety.
Chemical manufacturing process optimization tips
Below are some of my recommendations for getting started with an optimization project. Note that this is just a basic approach outline. Each step in the approach requires at least several hours of preparation and execution.
Conduct a process analysis
The first step in optimizing a manufacturing process is to conduct a thorough analysis of it. This analysis should include a review of the:
- Raw materials
- Data collected during the manufacturing process
Identify improvement opportunities
Once you complete your analysis, the next step is to identify opportunities for improvement. This could involve anything from changing the design of a piece of equipment to modifying a procedure or using a different raw material.
Develop a plan
With a list of opportunities, you’ll then want to make a plan for implementing the changes. Your plan should include your project timeline, your budget, and the key performance indicators that you’ll track.
Test and measure
It may take a while to implement the modifications you’ve made to your existing process. When you’re finished, it’s critical to test and measure the effectiveness of those changes.
You’ll need to evaluate each new variable in the process. That’s why it’s important to determine the KPIs you’ll track ahead of time. If you get to this step in the process without having determined your measurable outcomes, you may struggle to determine the success of your project.
This step will likely involve testing your product quality as well, to verify if it has improved, stagnated, or declined.
The final step in process optimization is to continuously improve the process. This could involve making further changes to the equipment, procedures, or raw materials. It could also involve optimizing the process on an ongoing basis to ensure that it remains efficient and effective.
EHS software for process optimization
Most chemical manufacturing operations fall under OSHA’s process safety management (PSM) standard. As such, having a standard system in place to track process modifications is critical for compliance.
Management of change (MOC) software is designed for just that. It allows chemical manufacturers to schedule, assign, and track critical changes to processes, people, and equipment.
If you’re struggling to start a process optimization project because you can’t figure out how to coordinate the changes, we’d highly recommend investigating whether MOC software is a good fit for your team. You can watch one of our product demos here to learn how Frontline MOC helps chemical manufacturers maintain PSM compliance and streamline their processes.