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Computing has since transformed the industry into a $4tr business supplying ingredients for all types of manufactured goods, ranging from shampoo to paint to mattresses. Yet for Thomas, it’s also emerging as a battleground over ownership of valuable formulations.
“There’s no sort of regulatory framework and there’s no shortage of lawyers trying to get involved,” said the executive, who headed German chemicals maker Covestro AG for more than a decade before becoming chairman of Johnson Matthey Plc on June 1. “Who owns the data in the chain?”
The warning from the top industry veteran serves to highlight a debate raging across the corporate world over data, privacy and ownership rights, which has particular relevance to chemical makers because of their growing reliance on factory automation. Industrial robots are stepping into the shoes of trusted employees, absorbing huge quantities of sensitive data from both manufacturers and customers, while learning and modifying key formulations along the way.
Suppliers have captured all the value created by artificial intelligence, according to Vijay Sarathy, head of chemicals for North America at consultancy firm Accenture. Customers contributing data to the manufacturing chain now feel they are owed something for their input.
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