Schneider Electric makes smart factories a reality

Company deploys Internet of Things, augmented reality, cobots, and other technologies to enhance processes

Designing an automated warehouse Sawyer Bateman, chief technology officer at EasyPost, tells Tonya Hall about the role data science plays in the creation of an automated warehouse.

EXECUTIVE GUIDE

Robotics in business: Everything humans need to know

An executive guide to the technology and market drivers behind the $135 billion robotics market.

Read More

Schneider Electric's business is focused on providing energy and automation technology to help customers achieve efficiency and sustainability. Given the company's emphasis on delivering real-time automation, it's no surprise that Schneider has embarked on a broad strategy to transform its operations through the development of "smart" factories worldwide.

Schneider's efforts around industrial automation, what it calls its Smart Factory Program, involves the use of the same Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in its manufacturing plants, facilities, and offices that the company offers to its customers. 

The centerpiece of the effort, which began in 2016, is EcoStruxure, open IoT-enabled architecture and platform that allows organizations to leverage connected devices, sensors and other things. The project to modernize the manufacturing operations is no small endeavor. Schneider Electric's industrial footprint includes 207 factories in 44 countries employing about 86,000 people, according to Cyril Perducat, executive vice president of IoT and digital offers.

The company's goal as of late 2018 was to have more than 60 of its factories using EcoStruxure. By the end of 2020, the aim is to have more than 100 using the technology.

Schneider is making its factories smart through six areas of digital transformation, Perducat said. These include:

  • Agile management, creating shop-floor agility by connecting control to the enterprise level; enabling operators to make better decisions on the factory floor with connected assets that provide real-time insight
  • Asset performance management to optimize performance through real-time asset and process information
  • Energy efficiency, by providing more visibility, control, and optimization of power consumption through monitoring
  • Process efficiency, improving closed-loop measurement and control for higher throughput and faster processing; and reliability, ensuring plant, process, and asset uptime through IoT-powered predictive analytics

The factory modernization is gaining notice and realizing benefits. For example, Schneider Electric's Le Vaudreuil factory in France was awarded by the World Economic Forum as one of the world's top nine most advanced "lighthouse" sites applying Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies at scale.

The factory has implemented tools such as EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor, which lets operators use augmented reality to speed up operation and maintenance, delivering between a 2% and 7% gain in productivity. The technology also provides up to 30% energy savings.

The digital transformation of Schneider's factories has made the company more sustainable, more flexible in meeting customer demands, and more attractive to potential employees, Perducat said.

"Digital infrastructure in manufacturing has been an evolution over several decades, but we now have the tools to manage factory optimization strategies at the scale and speed to take a real-time approach to asset management and process optimization," Perducat said.

With the digital transformation of its plants, Schneider Electric has seen work practices evolve quickly, and has seen many new tools appear in the working environment. These include automatic guided vehicles, tablets, and other mobile tools, augmented and virtual reality, and "cobots," or robots that physically interact with humans in a shared workspace.