Machine and Process Management

How to make plant operations smarter in the digital age

smart operations

As manufacturing resumes across the globe many of us are considering how Industry can prepare for the ‘new normal’. I’ve spoken at length about how greater flexibility and agility in manufacturing can help companies respond to changing market demands and customer needs. But the current pandemic has shown us this is only one part of the equation.

To cope with the disruption to supply chains, be it on a global scale or an isolated local issue, operations need to be smarter. Smart Operations is one of the twelve drivers of digitalization or ‘Business Enablers’ that we’ve identified for industry. IIoT solutions can help with three key aspects of smart operations:

  • Agile Production: digitally connected, flexible assets which can respond to supply chain and marketing demands.
  • Optimized scheduling: a scheduling system that can react to changing demands in real time, whether those changes are driven by the supply chain, customers or maintenance needs.
  • Digital supply chain: digitally and securely linking a plant’s scheduling and operation to the separate entities in the supply chain so production can respond in real-time.

What does smart operations look like?

To give you some perspective, think about the great strides made in the eCommerce world by brands like Amazon, where the consumer can track an order at every point of the delivery. Theoretically IIoT has made this possible in manufacturing for some time, and at Schneider Electric we’ve been doing it for a while now. You can read more about how we’ve approached this in our distribution centres here.

In Industry overall, however, uptake has been slow. Part of the delay in uptake of digital supply chain technology has been due to a lack of collaboration between businesses. This brings us to another lesson learnt from recent events, which my colleague Peter Herweck has echoed: we need to be open to working together.

Adapting to the new normal

Digitalization is as much about changing your mindset as it is about technology. Like working from home, perhaps some businesses who weren’t willing to make the shift before, have been forced to. Now they’re seeing real benefits.

In a recent survey of manufacturers, ARC found many businesses said they wished they had put more into implementing digital solutions before the pandemic. Those further along the digital transformation path were in a better position respond to the crisis.

There’s been many positive examples of how smarter operations can help businesses adapt to adversity:

  • Companies which needed to quickly increase production in order to keep up with consumer demand, stay afloat, or simply do their bit to help in a time of crisis (e.g. toilet paper, hand sanitizer.)
  • Some plants have changed their production output in order to produce different products that are desperately needed, such as PPE and hand sanitizer.
  • Businesses have started to share in information in order to better manage their production and supply chains.

The new normal is propelling us into a more digitized world at an accelerated speed, whether in our personal lives at home, or our work lives (also at home!). Even at Schneider Electric where we wave the flag for digitalization, we too have had to adapt to new ways of working. We’ve also responded to challenges in our supply chain and manufacturing plants. We’re ready to start reimagining the new normal!

Are you ready for the new normal?

Learn more about our smart factories.


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