How “Smart Manufacturing” Opens Doors to Improved Plant Productivity

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Manufacturers across the globe are digitizing their operations in ways that include improvements to design, engineering, operations and maintenance. These companies are investing in digitization to achieve one common goal: increased productivity.  In our company as well as in many others, the search is on for connected tools that can help to produce the same output with less input or increase output with the same level of input. Of course, one aims for the best of both, do more with less.

In fact, our company is aggressively seeking to reap the productivity gains afforded through digitization and then openly share the lessons that we’ve learned though this process with the market.  The way we’re doing it is to apply our own suite of new digital products to our internal manufacturing plants.  We operate 200 manufacturing sites across the globe and we have selected 60 of them to begin implementing our digitalized products, tools and applications at scale (i.e., the elements that make up the open EcoStruxure architecture).

Many manufacturers fear that if they embrace the current digitization wave that they will need to spend significant amounts of money ripping out old equipment and installing new. But this will not be the case for us in our own factories nor does it have to occur in any other factories. Digitization around an open architecture such as EcoStruxure builds on what we already have in place (which includes both Schneider Electric and non-Schneider Electric products) and allows us to deploy solutions that create more transparency so we can better automate, visualize and control our data.  Our migration will involve taking steps to enhance our productivity.  Our manufacturing and application engineers will work together with the support of some of our system integrator partners. Together they will implement the new technologies which will, in turn, boost productivity and provide us with the rapid payback we anticipate.

“Big data” is out, “Smart data” is in

In our discussions with customers, we find that many are concerned about the “flood” of data that will be created as a result of implementing digitized solutions. Many feel they already have an overabundance of data and have yet to possess the means to efficiently interpret that data in a productive manner. However, our suite of new digitization tools does not focus on making data “big” but rather on making data “smart,” that is, leveraging pockets of data that actually help to solve business problems. The new tools are built around accessing only the relevant data and making it visible to operators in an interactive manner, automatic or manual where desired.

An operator using a new EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor tool, for example, can use a common tablet or smart phone device that captures information from multiple sources. That information is then graphically superimposed on the real-world environment in an augmented reality fashion. Data consisting of catalogs, wiring diagrams, manuals, troubleshooting steps and procedures—is made available to the operator, but only those portions of the data that are needed. This instant and easy access to relevant information helps to reduce operator and/or technician error.

Facilitating the creation of new business models

Digitization-driven advanced connectivity allows companies to develop new relationships with their customers. For example, equipment support might now be sold as an affordable and lucrative cloud-based service or they may engage in performance contracting or other new business model.

New tools like EcoStruxure Profit Advisor can also help drive the profitability of operations. In this case, a combination of sensor-based data from process and financial data can be used to calculate the cost and profit points across industrial processes.  This capability benefits not only executives but also operators, shift managers and plant managers. The intelligence in the app can automatically make the most profitable decision and then can report back to those users who are responsible for managing the particular process.


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