AIChE: Chem Industry Smarter, Safer

Monday, April 27, 2015 @ 11:04 AM gHale

By Gregory Hale
With technology getting stronger and more robust, the chemical industry is getting smarter and safer.

“The evolution of technology has been breathtaking especially in IT,” said Marvin O. Schlanger, chairman and former chief executive of CDVA Group PLC and former chairman of the supervisory Board at LyondellBasell Industries during his keynote address Monday at the 2015 AIChE Spring Meeting and 11th Global Congress on Process Safety in Austin, TX. “Technology opened vistas we could only dream about years ago. We are much more effective today than we used to be.”

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That uptick in effectiveness comes across because of advances in simulations and modeling that allow engineers to view a system, process or facility before actually jumping into actually doing a project. “Students today spend more time exploring compared to just grinding away,” he said. “Interactive systems allow professors to view (students’) work as it is being done.”

Schlanger pointed to three areas where advances are occurring:
• Technology
• Marketplace
• Demand society is making for engineering skills

Technology is advancing so much that plants are more efficient and much safer, Schlanger said.

In terms of the marketplace, the economic impact with shale gas is leading the way. “It has been the most significant development in the last half century,” Schlanger said. He added energy production is at levels they were 45 years ago.

The new influx of energy changed the economics of manufacturing in America, he said. With less expensive feedstocks, it also benefits chemical manufacturing.

Looking at societal demands placed upon engineers, Schlanger looked at four key areas:
• Owners are entitled to a fair return on investment
• Investors need a positive return
• Employees deserve a safe and productive environment
• Chemical companies need to be good neighbors

As our technological capabilities have grown, so too has our ability to become more efficient, he said. “Compliance is no longer optional, it is a requirement.”

When it comes to the future of chemical engineering, Schlanger said the future is nothing but positive as greater opportunities continue to grow. It just falls on what direction an engineer wants to head.

“The great American philosopher, Yogi Berra, once said, “when you get to the fork in the road, take it,’” Schlanger said. “The good news is you can make great choices in the golden age of chemical engineering.”

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