Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Chemical Industry
What is Chemical Industry?
Say ‘chemical’ and it already triggers a pungent smell. From something as common as salt, readily available in any grocery store, to the rare californium that costs about USD 27 million per gram, it is difficult to confine the scope of the chemical industry. Chemical industry products are of high utility in our day to day lives like sugar, soap, detergent, toothpaste, vinegar, bleaching powder, etc. From the recent, we have seen a surge in the demand for hand sanitizer and sanitizer spray bottles to the extent that its supply was overwhelmed by its demand. There were trends where people also queried on how to make sanitizer at home. From an industrial context, chemical products also constitute inputs for other industries. There is a bit of chemical that goes into almost every product but in safer ways.
Our focus here shall be on the processes and operations used by businesses in the chemical industry. Business enterprises are involved in the value chain of the chemical industry through research and development, manufacturing, supply chain and logistics, and marketing and distribution.
Challenges Faced Due to Poor Processes and Management Systems
Poor Waste Management. Waste management is a serious and sensitive operation for businesses, especially the manufacturers, engaged in the production and processing of chemical products. The wastes generated out of manufacturing processes could pose threat to human health, the environment, and other forms of life including marine life. There are strict laws for carelessness or unpreparedness in chemical waste management. Incorporating the appropriate and required safety standards into the processes and operations of a manufacturing/processing plant should not be regarded only as a regulatory obligation but also a moral duty as responsible human entities. But where processes are disregarded, proper waste management would be a far-fetched ask.
Quality Control. Most chemicals, chemical wastes or their by-products are hazardous to life and the environment. We will put product utility second to safety when it comes to quality control in the chemical industry. But in ensuring proper handling, transportation, storage, processing/manufacturing, distribution, and usage spanning across the value chain, well-defined and scientific processes that address the necessary safety priorities are critical. For instance, mentioning the proper usage guidelines on product packages is a critical activity in quality control. The processes must permit the flow of the required information to be printed, to the packaging department/entity.
Weak Inventory Control. As SOP consultants for chemical industry, we have been observing that streaks of shortage of raw materials are frequent in the chemical industry. Strong inventory and procurement control is critical here. There is no room for lapses or delays in placing reorders. Weaker inventory management processes can prove to be extremely detrimental to businesses in securing inventory at the required levels. Process automation and digitization of inventory level monitoring and tracking significantly help. But unplanned processes and operational activities makes shifting to automation difficult for businesses. So, a lack of a process-oriented approach not only makes inventory control weaker but also limits the scope for automation.
Uncoordinated Logistics. Another distinguishing feature of the chemical industry is that most part of its value chain is located in remote or distant locations for reasons of maintaining safe distances from populated areas, availing economic zone benefits, and safer waste management. Being remotely located calls for better logistical planning connecting at both ends of the supply chain. Well-coordinated logistical operations further demand well-defined operating procedures integrated with other processes like procurement, warehousing, and sales and distribution. If logistical operations are not planned and coordinated to facilitate the other affecting business processes, the entire value chain gets disrupted.
Benefits of SOPs to Chemical Industry
Maintaining the Safety Standards. Highly respected and two times Nobel Prize winner Marie Skłodowska Curie’s notebooks are still radioactive and are predicted to remain so till the next 5000 years. A hundred years back, the implications of handling radioactive materials were not known. But today, science can tell the hazards involved and safety measures that should be adopted in dealing with various types of chemicals. To avoid mishaps and accidents, ensure safe disposal of wastes, for regulatory compliance, and for the greater environmental good, maintaining the required safety standards is vital for businesses in the chemical industry. But how can that be achieved? The answer lies in scientific expertise, standards prevalent in the industry, and norms established by regulatory agencies being incorporated as SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). SOPs can define and establish how and what safety activities have to be carried out, when and by whom, who shall supervise such activities and certify/authorize successful completion, what to do in case of various types and degrees of deviation, how reporting must take place, etc.
Aid in Quality Control (QC). SOPs are useful in achieving the objectives of Quality Assurance and Quality Control. While QA is about infusing confidence that the quality requirements will be met, QC lays down the activities that need to be done to meet those quality parameters. These QC activities can be defined and mapped using SOPs. SOPs can specify what quality parameters have to be checked and reported, the different junctures when these checks have to be done, the corrective measures to be adopted based on reports, who shall carry out the checks, who shall permit/authorize, how frequently the tests have to be done, documentation and reporting, etc.
Regulatory Compliance. Regulations are extremely strict in the chemical industry and failure to comply can result in serious penalties. These regulations cover working conditions, condition of the machinery and equipment, safety gears and measures, conduct of mock drills, output quality, waste management, etc. Each established guideline and rule must find its due place in the operations. Such kind of detailing is feasible with SOPs. Once the right SOPs are in place and are strictly followed, it will also lead to generation of reports that could come in handy at the time of inspections and audits.
Harmonious Industrial Relations (IR). IR issues are rampant in production and processing plants and factories and are not confined to the chemical industry only. Trade unions offer a strong voice in HR and IR decision-making. To minimize IR frictions, it is best for businesses to strictly maintain all the employee-related matters within the confines of operational certainty with SOPs. These matters include timely payment of wages and salaries, maintenance of assets and infrastructure, hygienic canteen facilities, keeping safety gears and assets in working condition, preparedness for medical aid, etc.