Solvay: Building a cloud-based logistics process with Google Cloud Platform

About Solvay

Created in 1863, Solvay is an advanced materials and specialty chemicals company, devoted to developing chemistry to address key societal challenges.

Industries: Manufacturing
Location: Belgium

About Revevol

Since 2007, Revevol has brought companies agile, efficient, and secure cloud platforms to help them achieve true digital transformation.

Solvay is overhauling its global logistics operations with a cloud-based platform based on BigQuery and Cloud SQL.

Google Cloud Results

  • Makes logistics controls more efficient and consistent with a streamlined, digitized platform
  • Allows for real-time information sharing within the industrial platform and across different sites with a robust API with over 200 endpoints
  • Saves money and DevOps resources with managed services by Google

Reduces basic checks from 15 minutes to less than one

Founded in 1863 as a family business, Belgium-based Solvay is now an advanced materials and specialty chemicals group with 124 sites responsible for manufacturing and delivering products, and providing solutions across 61 countries. In 2015, following an internal restructure of its logistics site solutions, the company began looking for ways to bring its procedures up to date and improve information sharing within its logistics operations. To do that, Solvay turned to Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

“We wanted to digitize our logistics process with a new platform that needed high availability and the ability to scale up,” says Jean-Baptiste Cercueil, Head of Logistics Processes at Solvay. “Once we decided this should be a cloud-based venture, Google was the obvious solution.”

Driving efficiency, improving collaboration with GCP

Industrial chemical companies like Solvay are heavily regulated, with safety and security of paramount importance. Evolutions in regulations are clarifying and increasing the share of responsibility that shippers like Solvay would bear during transportation. In response, Solvay’s internal business services unit looked at the existing logistics process to see how it could be digitized and made more efficient. “We saw it as an opportunity to overhaul and innovate the process,” says Jean-Baptiste. Solvay searched the market for an off-the-shelf solution, but could not find one that met its unique, complex needs. So the company built SELFY: the Solution to improve the Efficiency of Logistics Flows on Yard.

Using mobile devices and cloud technology, SELFY has two main objectives, says Jean-Baptiste. The first is to give Solvay more control over the mandatory regulatory checks it has to carry out. Solvay wanted a platform that could help both the risk assessment experts who design them as well as the operators who physically carry them out on production sites all over the world. The second objective of SELFY was to increase collaboration across the company. Prior to SELFY, different sites could not share data about basic checks they had done, so trucks moving from one site to another would often be held up over unnecessary checks that had already been carried out. A more secure, online way of sharing data between sites would minimize fuss and help improve the flow of goods without compromising on security and regulatory standards.

“It’s so easy to set up Cloud Functions to get some data, process it with Cloud Dataflow, and then import it into BigQuery. With Google Cloud Platform, everything is very nicely integrated.”

Alexandre Mathe, Technical Project Manager, Solvay

For SELFY to work, the company needed an online database that could be accessed by multiple types of devices throughout the globe, with minimal downtime. By 2016, it was clear that hosting servers on-premises would not work. “We could have built an on-premises solution, but there would have been so much redundancy,” says Alexandre Mathe, Technical Project Manager at Solvay. “We would have had to build everything from scratch, from logging in, to monitoring tools, to managing APIs. Besides, with a single data center to serve the whole world, there’d be differences in performance and what happens if it crashes?” It was clear that a cloud-based infrastructure was the ideal solution for SELFY.

Seamless integration, minimal fuss

Solvay had been using G Suite as its office productivity and email platform for over five years, so when it came time to look for a new infrastructure, GCP was a “globally consistent solution”, according to Alexandre. The company used Google Cloud Partner Revevol to switch to G Suite, so they were the obvious choice to help plan and execute the migration to GCP. According to Jean-Baptiste, Revevol’s prior knowledge of Solvay and the needs of SELFY were crucial. “They really took the time to understand the functionalities we were looking for. That was the key to the design of the whole solution,” he says.

SELFY had to handle complex data processes at scale and remain easy to use, so Cloud SQL proved ideal as a high-performance database solution with a language familiar to Solvay’s team of developers. Similarly, BigQuery and Cloud Dataflow enabled Solvay to import and process data quickly and easily. The company used Cloud Endpoints to manage the SELFY API, which needed to be robust enough to handle multiple versions from over 200 endpoints. The core of SELFY was built with App Engine, with Stackdriver monitoring operations. Cloud Storage was used for storing media files, documents, and other static assets in a highly secure environment. Meanwhile, Cloud Functions proved vital for simplifying and streamlining SELFY and its key tasks.

“It’s so easy to set up Cloud Functions to get some data, process it with Cloud Dataflow, and then import it into BigQuery,” says Alexandre. “With Google Cloud Platform, everything is very nicely integrated.”

A cutting-edge solution, built for scalability

By mid-2018, Solvay deployed SELFY on two sites before expanding to the rest of the company. Even at this stage, the platform has made an impact. Solvay and its truck drivers have benefitted from more efficient controls, which has ultimately lead to improved logistics flow. Thanks to SELFY, employees can maintain the company’s rate of approximately 100 operations per day on a site but with fewer workers specifically assigned to regulatory controls. This frees resources up for other key areas of the business.

“With a cloud solution, we were expecting to improve our information-sharing and collaboration. With GCP, we have also improved the consistency of our logistics controls and now we are looking at ways to reorganize our procedures and make them even more efficient.”

Jean-Baptiste Cercueil, Head of Logistics Processes, Solvay

The ability to share information quickly between sites has helped enormously. When truck drivers made multiple visits to sites in a short period of time, it was common to unnecessarily repeat some basic checks. Now that those tests are online and available to see, checks for return drivers have been reduced from 15 minutes to less than a minute. Thanks to the performance, scalability, and ease of use of GCP, Solvay has managed to drive efficiency in its logistics process and stay up to date with a changing regulatory environment.

From an IT perspective, Solvay has been able to avoid sinking costs into a hosted solution and maintenance teams by using managed services by Google. GCP has helped Solvay take a more agile approach to development, quickly applying updates and fixes without disrupting the main operation. “After we first went live, we’ve deployed maybe another 12 versions, without any downtime,” says Alexandre. “This flexibility has really helped us.”

“With a cloud solution, we were expecting to improve our information-sharing and collaboration,” says Jean-Baptiste. “With GCP, we have also improved the consistency of our logistics controls and now we are looking at ways to reorganize our procedures and make them even more efficient.”

As well as rolling out SELFY to its other sites across Europe and eventually the world, Solvay is currently testing a mobile app, developed with GCP, providing even more flexibility to its workers while maintaining high standards. “A mobile app means that we don’t always need to have an operator waiting at the gate for a truck,” says Jean-Baptiste. “They can be working elsewhere on the site, get a notification on their phone, and then come to unload it.” The success of SELFY has led Solvay to look at other areas within the business where Google tools can help, not just now, but in the future.

“Our work with SELFY means that we can now externalize our knowledge and build other architectures for different areas within the business,” says Alexandre. “If you’re building applications in a controlled environment, GCP is a great landscape to play in.”

About Solvay

Created in 1863, Solvay is an advanced materials and specialty chemicals company, devoted to developing chemistry to address key societal challenges.

Industries: Manufacturing
Location: Belgium

About Revevol

Since 2007, Revevol has brought companies agile, efficient, and secure cloud platforms to help them achieve true digital transformation.