Processs Insights - The European Perspective
“In the process industry and the commodities areas, I believe that rapid change and rapid results that we observe are focused on increased speed of continuous process development for improving the safety of the workers, sustainable performance and operational cost”. Ahead of OPEX Week: Business Transformation Europe Summit key speaker Kai Johansen, Director, Operational Excellence at Glencore Nikkelverk shares his thoughts on rapid change and process excellence.
How would you describe the state of operational excellence in Europe?
What we see is that certain industries are really leading the way. They have matured quite a lot due to the competition that has been there for quite a while, like the car industry. It is interesting to see how focus on OPEX is increasing in many industries. The oil and gas industry is a good example, here in Norway we hear about many great success stories in this area from early phase OPEX initiatives.
Do you agree that rapid change and results are fast becoming the mantra of the companies, both within Europe and beyond?
Yes, definitely. The fast development of digitalization, new materials and technology development are factors that are enabling fast changes. The serious environmental challenges the world is facing and the competition in the commodity area are key influences for the rapid changes. In the process industry and the commodities areas, I believe that rapid change and rapid results that we observe are focused on increased speed of continuous process development for improving the safety of the workers, sustainable performance and operational cost.
How do you see this affecting the ways that companies think about an approach to process excellence in business transformation in the future?
From our perspective, being one of the 5 largest Nickel refineries in the world, I see that we continuously need to find ways
to increase our improvement speed in order to remain among the leading producers in the future. As an advanced chemical industrial company we see implementation of process excellence as our key approach to strengthen our performance culture and to involve all our employees in the continuous improvement work on our processes.
How does this influence the skills and business capabilities that are required to remain competitive?
It has a lot to do with what kind of leadership we need to do the change. We need leaders with people skills that can build good teams and empower them. As we automate the processes, we need fewer operators with skills to handle more advanced processes.
Digitalization, new materials and new technology are important enablers to stay competitive in the future, so we also need to further strengthen our skills and capabilities in the area of R&D and IT and innovation management.
How would you describe the current perception of process improvement in your organization?
I would say that the perception is that is an area of huge opportunities for us still. We are taking a systematic approach
to improve stability and to establish continuous process improvement work with cross discipline teams and strong involvement from operators to senior engineers. We still have a lot of potentials for improvement, so we consider ourselves lucky. We need to be better at automation and utilize our huge amount of data in a smarter and more efficient way.
Are technology and process almost inseparable?
I certainly think they are inseparable.. Better technology realizes opportunitiesfor solving current process challenges and for eliminating restrictions to the current process by existing technology. In the process industry a lot of our technology lasts for decades before it has to be changed, so if you go decades back you will see that, at that time, the materials science and technological solutions, was not as advanced as it is now. New technology often provides big improvements for process optimization in our industry.
I also would like to add here the importance of implementing state of the art IT systems and using them to enable further automatisation and better leading KPIs on process state which enables us to react faster on process deviations and thus reduce variation in the process.
What capabilities and skills does the OPEX leader of the future need to drive forward operational excellence within their organization?
We look for what we call “visible leaders”. They need to be visible in the production to support the team, encourage the use of best practices and systematic improvement work. We need leaders that understand operational excellence, that set targets and direction for their teams, that understand their function as role models and last but not least have a positive view on people. In order for the continuous improvement work to be fast and successful, the OPEX of the future need to let the team try out their ideas and be willing to accept some failures as long as lessons are learn from them.
Why are you looking forward to at OPEX Week Europe?
I really enjoy taking part in the PEX Network conferences and they provide the opportunity to share my experience with colleagues. I find the OPEX Week conferences very inspiring. What I really like about working with the PEX Network community is that the same philosophy and systems apply for very many different industries. We have very little competitive forces and we can share freely, and by listening to different industries we can look at problems from different angles. This is often how innovation is made, taking a solution from a different industry and apply it in your own.
Many industries are currently facing many and big challenges, and I belive that OPEX is more important than ever. Many companies are introducing OPEX programs, traditional industries like the one I am part of and new industries. I therefore believe that next years conference is going to be a new highlight that I already look very much forward to.