Could you provide a brief overview of BASF’s key areas of activity in Singapore/Southeast Asia?
BASF has been present in Singapore since 1978, supplying customers from various industries, including chemicals, construction, electronics, personal care, and health and nutrition. The company today operates four production facilities in Singapore, as well as Newtrition® Lab Asia Pacific for its nutrition and health business. BASF posted sales to customers in Singapore of about €257 million in 2019 and had 565 employees as of the end of the year.
In Southeast Asia, BASF operates 16 plants via wholly or jointly owned legal entities and employed a total of 4,122 employees in 2019. BASF sees ASEAN as an important and growing market and has committed to competitive investments in downstream businesses. For example, we established the new Crop Protection Formulation Plant in Singapore in 2020. We will also double our capacity for antioxidant Irganox® 1010 by adding an additional production line that will be integrated into the existing production facilities in Jurong Island, with the start-up planned in 2022.
Could you comment on how has the pandemic impacted the business?
Southeast Asia is one of the key manufacturing hubs. This means that it has been considerably affected by the demand collapse from the EU and US, production stoppages, and supply chain disruptions. These fluctuations have inevitably impacted BASF as well, although some of our business segments like nutrition and health, personal and home care products are showing stability and resilience.
More importantly, COVID-19 may have changed the way we operate business forever. In BASF, besides doubling our efforts in ensuring the safety and health of our colleagues, we have adopted new ways of working across the value chain – from customer interactions, supply chain, customer support to plant operations.
How do you see the future of the chemicals industry from a sustainability perspective?
Chemicals are present in 95% of manufactured goods and are used as feedstocks in the upstream of various value chains. Therefore, chemical companies play a vital and enabling role in tackling issues posed on society and environment by offering more sustainable solutions for a resource-efficient, carbon-neutral and circular society.
We are enhancing our portfolio with an increasing focus on sustainability, carbon management and our circular economy. Sustainability is at the core of what we do and is firmly anchored in the organization as part of governance, compensation systems, steering processes and business models, as well as in our innovation process.
To what extent is the chemicals industry moving towards fully automated operations in Singapore?
Our operations in Singapore are already automated where possible. For example, at our plastic additives plant at Jurong Island, the entire chemical process is controlled via the DCS (Distributed Control System). In this system, multiple Equipment Modules (EQMs) run programs that control each step of the production. This includes dosing of the raw materials and adjustment of pressure and temperature to reach the desired settings, and transfer to the downstream process steps. Our operators are therefore mainly acting as “pilots in a plane cockpit” monitoring the process and will act if required. They will also check the asset in the field to spot abnormalities or prepare equipment for maintenance and cleaning.
In 2020, the Jurong Island site also embarked on various digitalization initiatives. For example, we are currently rolling out an MES (Manufacturing Enterprise System) that links our manufacturing operations with our business processes in SAP, eliminating all the paper flows in between. Barcodes on the raw materials and finished goods enable us to execute all required inventory transactions via tablets in the field, and the production planning in SAP is communicated via MES to the DCS which allows remote steering.