Jeff Drees says the rebound in U.S. manufacturing is real, not just wishful thinking. In 2012, notes the president of Schneider Electric's U.S. operations, the energy management firm had more growth in its industrial buildings business than any other sector as companies built new plants or refurbished existing ones.
That growth was driven by the automotive and aerospace industries, Drees explained, but also by the petrochemical industry, whose energy-intensive processes benefit from shale gas prices that are a third the cost of what they had been. Along with cheap energy, the U.S. is benefiting from investments in advanced manufacturing, which reduce the labor content of production and make the U.S. more competitive. Drees also points out that foreign companies are investing in the U.S. because it is a large market with a stable government and physical security, giving as an example the $3.9 billion purchase of Thomas & Betts by ABB.
While Drees expects Schneider Electric to outperform expected U.S. GDP growth of 2% in its hardware offerings, the company is also taking advantage of its energy expertise to move into the software and solutions arena. In October, the company announced several software suites called StruxureWare, initially targeted to data centers, water, healthcare and the grid. The technology is designed to bridge the gap between facilities and the enterprise so that managers have more insight and control of energy usage across their company.
"StruxtureWare enables our customers to automatically pull data from their controls systems, organize it into the relevant information for each function and, more importantly, into actionable insight to make better decisions and improve efficiencies," explains Pascal Brosset, chief technology officer for Schneider Electric.
Schneider Electric reflects broad trends revealed in IndustryWeek's C-Suite Survey, conducted in October with manufacturing CEOs, presidents and other executives. With high levels of quality becoming table stakes for manufacturers, they are increasingly banking on innovation and customer service to differentiate their businesses. As one executive noted about his message to his workforce: "Think differently, do things differently, embrace change."