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The Internet of Things is more than a vision

After automating its processes, the Swiss chemical distributor Brenntag Schweizerhall has found an entirely new business model.

Basel (Switzerland) is a stronghold of the chemical industry. This explains why the demand for primaries and base materials such as sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda is so great in that region. One important supplier of these products is Brenntag Schweizerhall AG, whose warehouse and distribution centre in the ‘Infrapark Baselland’ is in the immediate neighbourhood of its customers. The company asked Endress+Hauser to automate its plant and at the same time ordered a logistics concept guaranteeing ultimate safety and efficiency from storage right through processing to the delivery of products.

Today, the site features a totally new infrastructure with storage tanks and blending units, plus a pipeline network which allows Brenntag Schweizerhall to supply its customers directly. “Until recently, we carried about 30,000 tonnes of hazardous materials by truck to our customers every year. This resulted in relatively high transportation costs,” explains Wolfram Heymann, CEO of Brenntag Schweizerhall. “Our aim was to optimise the supply chain, not only commercially, but also with regards to safety on site because the corresponding loading and unloading operations were no longer required.”

For this reason, it was not only the automation of the manufacturing process that was highlighted. The logistics and commercial processes were also scrutinised. Working closely with Brenntag Schweizerhall, Endress+Hauser synchronised the data flow along the value-added chain and the data exchange between the actual process control system and the customer’s ERP system. Today, the central business processes between all stakeholders can be handled in a common network.

“The cross-system access to information enhanced efficiency and effectiveness helping us to make severe cutbacks on data administration costs,” says Roger Jaggi, Head of Engineering Solutions at Endress+Hauser Switzerland. “At the same time, we wanted to keep plant operation as simple and easy as possible.” The controls were programmed and set up for the customer using tried and tested standard components. Personnel operate the plant via software that provides graphic visualisation of the process.

One important interface is Endress+Hauser’s software, SupplyCare: the platform for inventory management relies on the appropriate sensor technology in the tanks to monitor replenishment and deadline scheduling, also allowing the full visualisation of stocks and inventories on the screen – both on site at the operating stations and at the headquarters in Basel. Thanks to the networked supply chain, Brenntag Schweizerhall can now keep stocks low and avoid delivery bottlenecks. Using the fast links of the local fibre optic network, end customers today report their requirements directly to the control system – without the red tape in order handling, and with the automated inventory management ensuring that the tanks and warehouses are always sufficiently full. “No matter how much the customer requests – thanks to automation, the product can now be supplied efficiently, safely and on time in the desired quantity and degree of dilution,” says Roger Jaggi.

The direct access to device and process data using a browser-based solution also makes maintenance and service work easier, with the latest device status called up in next to no time. Endress+Hauser’s experts are capable of remote monitoring maintenance intervals or of responding to error messages while en route. Thanks to the online access to all data and documents, the source of the error or malfunction is quickly identified. The customer is automatically notified in the event of maintenance work or a change in product availability.

The close collaboration between Endress+Hauser and Brenntag Schweizerhall from the planning stage to commissioning, pays dividends. “Procurement is a great deal easier today. We’ve optimised warehouse capacities, increased flexibility in production and cut logistics costs,” summarises Wolfram Heymann. “Now we not only have an automated warehouse for chemical base materials, we also have a totally new business model where all our customers and suppliers are integrated in a common network.”

The modern plant not only safeguards efficient and timely deliveries to end customers – it has also become safer thanks to the pipeline system. CEO Wolfram Heymann: “The integrated solution has allowed us 1,500 hazardous goods transports off the road – and to eliminate all related loading and unloading processes.”

Market leader

Brenntag Schweizerhall AG is the Swiss offspring of the Brenntag group of companies, the global leader in chemical distribution. In 2007 the company evolved from the merger of Christ Chemie AG, Chem-On Vertriebs AG and Schweizerhall Chemie AG and employs around 250 staff at four sites. Brenntag Schweizerhall operates in the market with three business divisions: industrial chemicals, specialty chemicals (nutrition and health) and waste disposal.

Safe processes

The raw chemicals are supplied by pipeline, rail or truck and stored. Flowmeters (A) measure the quantities. Endress+Hauser instruments continually monitor levels in all tanks (B) and temperature sensors and overfill prevention systems provide safety. The mixing process in the blender (C) is automated. Flow and temperature measurements provide the basics and density and conductivity parameters increase process safety. Customers in the neighbourhood are supplied via pipelines, with trucks used when needed. Flowmeters (D) measure the quantities handled.

For further information, please visit www.za.endress.com

From: Endress+Hauser (Pty) Ltd
Submitted by: Hennie Blignaut, Marketing Manager
Tel: (011) 262 8007
Email: hennie.blignaut@za.endress.com

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