The world changed overnight. Globally, we still have communities under lock-down and we are slowly progressing to “business as unusual”. Despite this, essential goods and services still need to find a way to function and secure the continuity of their operations. Often, capacity is constrained due to compliance with local laws and new requirements. During the last few months, we faced a duo challenge – how can we duplicate the capability of the limited resources and leverage every option across our global footprint to secure our supply chain. Empowering employees to make fast, informed decisions is key to improve productivity and operational efficiency. Across over 80 worldwide Schneider Electric manufacturing sites and distribution centers, digitization and technology are unlocking new capabilities not only of processes, but mainly of people.
In many of these sites, when we first introduced these new technologies, we did so with a primary efficiency and speed goal in mind. However, we quickly discovered that the new tools were enabling our teams to visualize their own performance in real-time. When the performance data was collected at the end of the week across multiple interrelated manufacturing processes, we were able to display the top five issues around the site. Having quick and easy access to such information opens new ways for our factories and distribution centers to improve the efficiency of their operations. With faster communication to our associates, productivity and speed of actions are rapidly improving. In parallel, we also extended the benefits of our digital transformation by bringing more visibility to our customers on various dimensions from traceability to end-to-end control.
Now an automated guided vehicle (AGV) can immediately identify where to drive to accomplish its next task while a warehouse associate could simply know the next order to pick by looking at their smart watch. The new technologies are opening an entirely new realm of possibilities and, as a result, our workers are generating numerous new ideas. Once in the hands of the teams, the technology drives them to identify new opportunities for extending the usage – ideas that were never even initially considered.
A holistic view that involves customers, suppliers and solution providers
When existing customers and potential clients learn about our Smart Factory and Smart Distribution Center transformation program, many are initially interested in understanding how specific digital applications work. Instead, as we walk them through our digital transformation journey, previously in person and now virtually, what they see is more of a holistic system view, one that links smart devices, edge control, and apps and analytics – all integrated within our Ecostruxure platform and architecture. This is where the business value of digital transformation increases in an exponential way.
That holistic system view involves our people not only working with our own products, but also with ingenious third-party and small enterprise solutions that augment the benefit of our core systems through our collaborative online community for learning and sharing opportunities, called Schneider Electric Exchange. When it comes to digitizing manufacturing and distribution center operations, we have learned that no one company can do it alone, especially now.
Our digital transformation not only influences each individual factory and distribution center, but it also connects key supply chain players both upstream and downstream of our operations. Knowing ahead of time what is available in stock, for short-term delivery of supplies when production needs to spike to meet short term customer demand, accelerates our smart supply chain value. Therefore, our suppliers and customers benefit as much as we do from our more integrated, more data-driven process flow.
Employees uncover their true value potential
Our community is also interested in understanding how our teams adapted to these changes so quickly, thereby enabling us to rapidly scale our operations. We have learned that the people tend to focus on the process improvements over the new technology. This approach benefits them in two ways:
- Meaningful purpose – they have much more visibility into why the work they are doing is important, and how it affects the success or failure of our operation down the line. This reinforces their purpose for being at work.
- Job enrichment – they see a great value in abandoning repetitive tasks in favor of assuming more responsibility for data-driven decisions across a wider scope within their area of operations.
Tasks such as planning, scheduling and maintenance used to be the sole domain of the management. Now, teams on the shop floor have more visibility to these processes, either in person when possible and also now more often remotely. The increased degree of flexibility and the openness allows them to better see the value to what they are doing, and also inspires them to look for new and better ways to get the work done.