Here’s how you remain competitive: Optimization and digitalization

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In Germany, where I live, there is a greater sense of fear when it comes to what the future holds. The industrious country continues to narrowly dodge a recession. The effects of the economic decline during the pandemic year of 2020 and the slowed production in the energy supply sector, given Europe’s past dependence on Russia for natural gas, have been felt here and in other parts of the world.

So, where energy comes from – how we generate it – is a very hot topic.

There also is this realization: if we want to ensure Germany and other countries remain industrious, then digitalization and optimizing automation processes are key.

Process automation operator holding a hard hat surrounded by digitalization imagery.

Over the decades, the combination of efficient, software-centric automation and digitalization will result in true sustainability. Even small optimization steps in processes can enable companies to remain flexible – whatever economic shifts may occur.

Optimization and digitalization will empower businesses to make an impact, while remaining financially stable.

Digitalization makes you competitive

Such topics took center stage during the Schneider Electric-sponsored 86th NAMUR General Meeting last November.

For those unfamiliar, NAMUR is a place where process industries can come together for two days to share their pains with vendors and find solutions. It’s a platform where collaboration is possible. End of the day, world progress is done through innovation and engineering. During the annual NAMUR meeting, more than 600 process engineers gathered with the intention of making the world a better place.

There was this consensus that optimization and digitalization can alleviate our energy fears. How are we going to do this? How will companies thrive? Remain competitive?

The answer, resoundingly, was by working together.

Open process automation allows companies to be multi-vendor. In turn, multi-vendor approaches, shaped around what you want to achieve – and not vice versa – enable co-innovation. Flexibility. The ability to accel and quickly adapt to market demands for continuous profitability.

It’s a mental shift that takes years, and it begins with thought leaders peppering their organizations with agents of change. I know this is achievable because Schneider Electric has accomplished this very feat.

Beginning in the 2000s with former CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire, Schneider gradually became a new company that embraced open concepts. People no longer know us as the company selling a push button or a tiny piece of hardware. We represent a software-centric ideal across standardized platforms. By mobilizing our ecosystem for a more sustainable world, we estimate our solutions will have saved and avoided 100 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year by 2025. Another example of our role as impact makers is our new Schneider Electric building in France which is 100% electric and energy autonomous.

We can no longer be afraid of technology and instead focus on building an ecosystem.

And speaking strictly to vendors, there’s money to be made with normalized, interfacing parts and pieces. Companies are tired of being locked into a single vendor. It hinders progress. Through open comes swifter and more profitable optimization.

At the very heart of this optimization is one key factor: data.

Data is the core to progress

Data is everywhere. The question is: Are we able to quickly capture and process it for intelligent decision-making?

Technologies like AVEVA create a pathway for impactful analysis of data, from the shop floor to the top-level business analysts sitting in the CEO’s office. Getting relevant data, whether it be through a distributed control system architecture like EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS or remote operations through something like SCADAPack, leads to informed decisions. Digitalization allows innovation to thrive.

By decoupling hardware and software, the interfaces allow for safe and secure connectivity.

The big picture is that this builds an ecosystem of connectivity.

True circularity of plastics

OECD’s Global Plastic Outlook predicts that, due to economic growth, plastic use will triple between 2019 and 2060, going from 460 million tons to 1.3 billion tons per year. Schneider Electric currently uses 100 kilotons of plastic every year to produce our products. So, our goal is to replace 30% of the plastic with recycled or biowaste material by the end of 2025.

This is a worldwide trend. Companies are now on the hunt for plastic waste. This type of circularity is achievable, but it requires optimization and digitalization.

There are plastic-sorting facilities today that haven’t changed in the past 40 years. This makes it difficult to provide quality sorting that chemical companies would need today to make circularity possible. Fortunately, there are people working on the digitalization of circularity, specifically in the recycling industry.

Schneider is collaborating with companies to drive support for sorting facilities, logistics, and chemical companies to have a safe data exchange, and then build that into the greater supply chain.

Companies see the monetary benefit in circularity. I’m optimistic because support for this will be one of the key indicators if we’ll see an upturn in the German economy.

During one conference, BASF mentioned it secured plastic waste for the next six years. This puts pressure on the sorting facilities and logistics. Just like the cement industry, we’re moving towards a plastics industry that lives off the waste produced by humans.

Join us at ACHEMA

I invite you all to join us at the ACHEMA June 10-14 in Frankfurt. Many of these significant advances towards a world with fewer carbon emissions will be on display. These technologies and efficiencies can save businesses hundreds of millions of dollars. Partnerships with Schneider’s experts make this possible across all process industries – and that journey can be tackled in bite-size chunks.

In the next few years, monetization will not be enough to be competitive. Given the net zero climate requirements set by nations, industrial global trends are moving towards sustainability. In the future, sustainability is what will keep you in the loop. And at ACHEMA, I’ll be happy to discuss how we can enable it.

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