Since 1920, Eastman has produced a broad range of advanced materials, chemicals, and fibers found in products that people use every day.

As a century-old legacy specialty materials company (spun off from Eastman Kodak to become an independent corporation in 1994), Eastman has a long history as a reliable global manufacturing organization and supplier of raw materials. Today, the company is also globally recognized as an industry leader in materials innovation, with a commitment to safety and sustainability.

From innovative films for electric vehicles, to resins that make high-performance medical devices more durable, and recycled materials for sustainable water bottles and cosmetic cases, Eastman’s advances across industries like agriculture, consumer goods, personal care, transportation, and textiles are part of its long-held promise to improve the quality of life for consumers around the world.

According to Molly Leita, Director of Data & Analytics at Eastman, the company's commitment to digital transformation is central to realizing this core purpose, and to its flagship program of revolutionizing molecular recycling technologies to enable a circular economy. Moreover, internal transformation has enabled Eastman to emerge in the materials industry as a digital leader.

“One of the best aspects of working at Eastman is that, in my view, we’re transforming,” said Leita, who joined the company over 20 years ago. “I have seen Eastman transform from an older chemical company to a modern specialty materials company focused on sustainability.”

Leita spoke to ASUG ahead of the ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Chemicals conference (June 21–22, in The Woodlands, TX), where she delivered the closing-day keynote and discussed Eastman’s overall digital transformation journey.

Strategic Drivers for Transformation

In pursuing digital evolution, Eastman’s team first identified multiple strategic drivers for transformation. Internally, executives had long sought to integrate and modernize the company to improve cost, speed, and agility; to use advanced analytics as a catalyst to manage complexity and create a competitive advantage; to connect and understand customers and suppliers beyond the walls of the company; and to enhance specialty product offerings with digital services to create value in the market.

Such high-level strategic drivers required a holistic understanding and acceptance of the need for Eastman to embrace digital technologies within its operations. At a high level, Eastman approached transformation by identifying global digital trends, and the questions they raised, in four dimensions:

  • Automation of processes: “How do we bring efficiencies and effectiveness through the entire enterprise with automation?”
  • Data and analytics: “How can we use artificial intelligence or advanced mathematical models combined with computing power to help people make better decisions than either a human or a computer could make alone?”
  • Connectivity: “As the Internet has evolved, as commerce has evolved, and as blockchain has evolved, companies don’t have to stay within their own walls. How can we connect with suppliers and customers through new digital tools and channels?”
  • Digital services: “How can we work with our customers to provide value to them and connect to them by creating new business models and digital products that enable our customers to do things differently, whatever their goals are, and also establish a new revenue stream for the company?”

With these trends in mind, Eastman executives pinpointed six digital workstreams to inform and accelerate the company’s transformation. Establishing commercial excellence, data and decision making, business and enablement, technology innovation, streamlined operations, and new business models as these six pillars, Eastman moved forward.

“We Are Truly Saving the Planet”

Throughout the process of framing the conversation around digital transformation internally at Eastman, executive support was pivotal. Even more instrumental was a companywide belief in Eastman’s commitment to enabling a circular economy.

Whereas the world has historically operated in a “linear” economy, through which raw materials and resources are extracted or harvested to produce products that are then used and thrown away (a “take-make-waste” process), a “circular” economy focuses on making the most of the world’s resources, minimizing waste and maximizing value by providing end-of-life solutions to reduce, reuse, and recycle products and materials that would otherwise end up in landfills and waterways (a “make use, reuse, remake, recycle” process).

Of 300 million metric tons of new plastics produced globally, only 16% is collected for recycling; only 12% is actually recycled. The remaining waste is incinerated, taken to landfills, discarded in unmanaged dumps, or littering the environment. Eastman’s molecular recycling technologies target these typically non-recycled materials and keep them in use by recycling them into new materials, contributing to a circular economy.

“When it comes to sustainability, Eastman has a bigger purpose than it had as a chemical company,” Leita said. “We are truly saving the planet, figuring out an evolutionary technology to recycle down to the molecule and create a circular economy.”

One of the key business challenges of a circular economy, Leita said, is that consumers want transparency into the recyclable content of products they’re purchasing. To address this, Eastman has formed a partnership with GreenToken by SAP to build a system that uses private blockchain technology to make supply chains more transparent, letting customers place more trust in recycling and ultimately less waste in the environment.

“The goal is to build a blockchain solution that traces the recyclable material throughout its lifecycle,” said Leita, “so that the consumer would be able to find a product, scan it digitally, and see the percentage of recycled material in that product, as well as where it’s from.”

Digital transformation allows Eastman to pursue such initiatives more efficiently. “We’re building plants, investing billions of dollars, inventing new technologies, and adapting our IT systems to that, which is really hard,” said Leita. “But because the bigger purpose is so impactful, it’s not been terribly difficult to get the company engaged.”

Increasing Eastman’s Digital Maturity

To ensure that digital transformation succeeds at Eastman, Leita notes business and IT leaders agree change management is essential throughout the organization.

“We can’t do this alone,” Leita said. “As part of our digital transformation journey, we have to bring the company along with us, and we have to work to increase the digital acumen and the digital maturity of the company.”

Internally, Eastman leveraged multiple channels to share knowledge and upskill existing employees, from podcasts, articles, and videos to recurring “coffee talks” and ask-me-anything sessions. Most impactfully, Leita said, the company restructured its IT division, with senior leaders appointed to lead those six focus areas and each having a seat at the table of Eastman’s business and functional teams. “Those senior leaders work directly with their peers, within our business or our functions, to really establish and execute that digital strategy.”

A digital steering team, involving the company’s chief information officer and their peers, collaborates heavily on that strategy, monitoring progress and adjusting workflows to suit evolving business needs. “They’re not just there when there’s an IT problem,” she said. “They’re listening to the challenges and strategies of all areas, whether it be a business or a function, and thinking about how to apply digital technologies.”

Recently, for example, Eastman leveraged artificial intelligence to digitize its innovation pipeline, accelerating product development. “Through those digital capabilities, we have been able to take manual steps out of those product development cycles for some products, to condense the cycles,” said Leita. One Eastman product, previously produced along a 30-day timeline, can now go through a development cycle in minutes.

Digital Innovation by Design

Eastman offers four digital products, but Leita considers Core, an automotive film-cutting software created in partnership with Eastman Performance Films, to be its flagship digital product. Enabling Eastman’s customers in the automotive aftermarket industry, including at auto shops, to install their paint protection and window film products more accurately and efficiently, Core is a digital service platform that solves an industrywide issue.

“Think of Core as a pattern cutting and verification software that our film distributors and installers use, with thousands of car patterns,” Leita said. “When a consumer comes to their shop and wants to buy paint protection film, the installer will then go to Core, find the patterns that they need, use the software to print those patterns in the film, cut them, and place them on the car.”

Leita considers Core just one example of Eastman leading in the digital space. Another award-winning product, Fluid Genius, is an advanced software application for processing industries, such as oil and gas, chemicals, and polymer processing, that equips plant maintenance engineers and operations managers with predictive insights to optimize heat transfer fluid performance, enabling them to monitor and forecast fluid issues.

“Fluid Genius assists with product quality, with improving yield, with production scheduling, and with budgeting,” Leita explained. “Basically, it puts our customers in a better position to extend the life of a fluid and avoid any unplanned shutdowns.”

Leita sees such digital offerings as the tip of the iceberg, given the future-facing nature of Eastman’s digital operations. From cloud computing to artificial intelligence, the company is now equipped to embrace global innovation trends and thrive as a “resilient” chemical enterprise. For example, manual statistical processes to evaluate various components of chemicals allow Eastman to predict the properties of molecules or entire products, but machine learning could offer pathways to automate such processes. “Instead of taking samples, analyzing them, and running statistical processes, we can through machine learning automate that and accelerate that timeline,” Leita said.

Across the board, Eastman is embracing its role as a digital leader within not only the chemical industry but other industries as well, by accelerating innovations in all forms. “The nature of Eastman is to take more risks, to be more agile,” Leita said. “We don’t have all the resources that larger companies have, but it’s because of that limitation that we have to move faster. It’s the culture of the company.”

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