Lessons from Thriving Industrial Operations

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Remote working is allowing me to travel around the world within a day, and as I speak with industrial customers around the world, I am struck by a commonality I see among those that are thriving.

To prosper during global upheaval, it takes resilience. It takes vision. It takes agility to accommodate rapidly changing market dynamics, supply chain disruptions, and unprecedented working conditions. And it takes technology.

Early adopters of digital industrial technology have accelerated their growth during some of the most difficult market conditions this generation has seen. These confident transformers will likely emerge among the new generation of marketplace winners. This is how they are doing it.

Making the Digital Transformation

Agile enterprises have a certain boldness not seen in traditional manufacturing or process settings.  As opposed to making tentative moves, they embrace innovative automation technologies to make step change-level operational improvements.

With each passing month, it’s more obvious that adopting digital technologies is no longer just a “nice to have” option. It’s a matter of business survival.  And these digital leaders are putting theory into practice right now. Customers from industries as diverse as consumer packaged-goods, mining, minerals and metals, logistics, and water and wastewater, are establishing strong resilience and competitive advantages with:

  • Open industrial platforms that break down silos and integrate best-of-breed solutions.
  • Software-centric automation and advanced analytics that drive step-change improvements across the full operational lifecycle.
  • Eco-efficiency and sustainability-driven practices that generate new-found efficiencies while meeting societal expectations.
  • Technology-empowered workforces, supported by safer and more efficient operations, that add uniquely human values like imagination, reasoning, judgment, and improvisation.

Adhering to these winning principles results in a multitude of advantages. Here is just a sampling of issues that our customers have addressed in innovative ways.

Breaking Down Silos

Traditionally, engineers who design process workflows and operators who execute them work in silos. Many are in separate departments using spreadsheets, highly customized applications, or out-of-date technologies with no real ability to share the data they produce. This leads to inefficiencies that bog down processes and introduce errors.

Modern manufacturing and process industries take an end-to-end and collaborative approach to automation design and operation. For example, leaders in the Mining, Minerals and Metals industries are addressing this issue through open systems that share information via structures such as Integrated Operations Centers. This holistic view enabled by an open architecture that accommodates all the operational layers¾from smart devices to edge control to apps and analytics¾provides new linkages and deeper integrations across core power and process systems.

Eco-efficiency and Sustainability

Modern consumers demand detailed information about the sources of raw materials that make up the products they buy. Specifically, they want to verify whether those materials are produced in a safe and sustainable manner.

In the Food and Beverage industry, software systems are bolstering traceability, from farm to table. The convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) plays a big role in making this happen. For manufacturers, end-to-end product traceability translates into better customer service and cost savings. For example, manufacturers can limit expenses whenever a product recall is required. For consumers, end-to-end product traceability means safer products.

Digital solutions have helped Nestle Waters track deviations and quickly highlight abnormal production in their bottled water Clean-In-Place (CIP) operations. As a result, Nestle reduced CIP processing time by 20%, without compromising water quality.

Universal Automation

Just as the IT world embraced the benefits of open operating platforms, now it’s industry’s turn. Universal automation is the world of plug and produce automation software components based on the IEC61499 standard that solve specific problems in a proven way. Think of it as the dawn of an industrial automation app store.

By breaking free of the constraints of closed, proprietary systems, and decoupling hardware from software, universal automation means that applications written for one system will easily run on another. This asset-centric automation ushers in a new generation of portable and interoperable solutions that optimize IT/OT convergence and set the stage for self-configuring, self-healing, fast retooling systems that drive speed and agility.

Such an approach is particularly effective in logistics industries where coordination and integration between disparate vendor systems emerges as a critical success factor for enabling rapid product deliveries.

People-centric Automation

Winning digitalization strategies embrace the human aspect of how technology empowers the workforce. Dashboards and remote monitoring have now become the eyes and ears of the human decision engine.

Empowering employees to make fast, informed decisions is key to improving productivity and operational efficiency. Across over 80 worldwide Schneider Electric Smart Factories and Distribution Centers , digitization and technology are unlocking new capabilities of processes and, more importantly, of people.

Another example is plastics manufacturer, Sanwa Group in Singapore. Sanwa digitized its operations with connected products and apps and analytics including:

  • Remote monitoring capabilities of energy consumption to individual machines
  • Wireless gateway for comprehensive IoT coverage of data monitoring such as temperature, humidity and pressure
  • Centralized command station to remotely manage operations
  • Access to real-time data for high-level analysis to boost efficiency

Sanwa says that digitization has enabled it to free-up manpower for more value-added, business-oriented work. The solutions helped the company cope with natural attrition due to aging workforce and helped its current employees to do more when it has been difficult to replace people who have retired. They also say that factory work is sometimes not seen as an attractive employment option for younger generations, but by building a start of the art factory of the future they increase their chance to attract talent into their workforce.

Industries of the Future

I look forward to the day when I can once again travel freely to our customer sites; to learn from the leaders and support all those that strive to be among the thriving industries of the future. In the meantime, as the most sustainable corporation in the world and a global manufacturer with an end-to-end network of smart factories and smart distribution centers, including three designated by The World Economic Forum as Advanced Lighthouses, Schneider Electric is on a mission to make industries of the future eco-efficient, agile, and resilient through open, software-centric industrial automation.

To learn more about truly open automation, agnostic software, and unique solutions that protect our planet and people, visit Industries of the Future.

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