AspenTech, a developer of process optimisation software celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Ruben Gil, director business consulting EMEA, describes how the company has helped many organisations manage and optimise plant and process design, operational performance and supply chain planning. He illustrates this through a recent project carried out at speciality chemicals manufacturer Cabot Corporation

During the past thirty years, process engineering has undergone significant transformation, driven by engineering best practices, technology innovation and global market challenges. In the speciality chemicals industry, many companies have experienced considerable growth with operations in various countries, yet they often use legacy systems unsuitable for a global business. This issue is exacerbated by the challenge of managing complexity.

This complexity is due to the necessity of being able to accurately model production processes with multiple production stages and dependencies that must simultaneously consider all manufacturing constraints. Timing of these multi-stage operations is essential in meeting customer demand and keeping work-in-process inventory at acceptable levels. Such complexity requires the optimisation of workflow processes to ensure objectives are met.

Such challenges are epitomised by speciality chemicals manufacturer, Cabot Corporation’s Carbon Black business. Until recently, schedulers across its 42 manufacturing facilities did not have the supply chain visibility required to make timely business decisions. They were using Microsoft Excel customised to fit the constraints of each plant to manually create schedules, which restricted access to vital information. The system also lacked a feedback loop to communicate actual production from the plant back to the scheduler, so the information they were working with was several hours old.

To improve the scheduling process, Cabot realised that it had to eliminate the information gap that was preventing the creation of up-to-date schedules. This resulted in a range of actions including: regional planning; scheduling to be performed on customised offline tools at each plant; the execution of production events to be completed manually in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

However, this resulted in the schedulers spending most of their time gathering information needed for decision making. As such, it became clear to Cabot that it had to improve the data available to schedulers and enhance supply chain communication.

In order to standardise its scheduling model across all its sites, Cabot has rolled out Aspen Plant Scheduler to 19 Carbon Black and five fumed Metal Oxide plants to schedule and interface to the ERP system on a daily basis. The Scheduler is configured for core scheduling tasks that are common across Cabot sites, with little interface customisation.

The result of this implementation has been that time spent by schedulers on data gathering has been reduced by more than 80%. Schedule horizons have increased by two weeks and schedule completeness has gone from 50% to more than 90%.

The real time data afforded by effective scheduling has bridged the gap between capabilities and volatile demand, with increasingly demanding customers being more easily satisfied, while at the same time inventories are kept low. Also, the better decisions provided by improved scheduling will lead to savings and better service.