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Innovation Talks: A Way Forward for Industry

July 1, 2020
Schneider Electric’s three-day digital event provided a practical roadmap for manufacturers in the current and post COVID-19 world.

For manufacturers, the digital transformation was charging ahead well before COVID-19. They drew on the promise of connected plants to deliver unprecedented efficiencies, real-time supply chain visibility and customer-driven product development.

Now, the pandemic brings a new sense of urgency to the Industry 4.0 revolution. Agility is essential for survival as manufacturers navigate new workplace safety requirements, unpredictable market dynamics and major supply chain disruptions. 

“Some of the most significant shifts in market share occur when coming out of downturns, when leading companies can balance resilience,” said Peter Herweck, Schneider Electric’s executive vice president of industrial automation, during his keynote address for a digital event the company hosted June 23 to June 25. “We believe energy and digital will be key enablers.”

The event, “Innovation Talks: A Way Forward for Industry,” attracted online attendees from various manufacturing sectors to address the many questions they may be struggling to answer during the pandemic, including:

·      How can we do a better job operating remotely when facility access and travel is limited or restricted?
·      Where should we adjust systems to reduce downtime and optimize efficiency?
·      What can we do to become more flexible and resilient to global disruptions in the future?

The programming on each day of the event addressed separate issues, including workforce empowerment, operational agility and efficiency and profitability.  Each day also included a virtual tour through the Schneider Electric Smart Factory in Batam, Indonesia, demonstrating how the company is navigating unprecedented market dynamics with digital technologies and an empowered workforce.

Fast, Informed Decision Makers

Herweck stressed during his keynote address that the game has quickly changed for manufacturers. The time for digital transformation is now. He noted that many manufacturers were already falling behind, citing an LNS Research study that shows only 25% of industrial companies have successfully implemented digital transformation initiatives with tangible value. The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the need to go digital, and success largely depends on manufacturers’ ability to provide employees with the tools they need to make fast and informed decisions. 

The cloud is the key enabling tool making this possible, Herweck said.

“Consider a factory worker who gets a notification on their watch while sitting at home after work hours. They know whether they need to connect to the factory remotely, or if it’s something minor, and doesn’t need to be addressed immediately,” Herweck said.

Herweck cited several real-world examples, including a Schneider Electric plant in Le Vaudreuil, France, that implemented digital solutions to create the “augmented operator.” The plant uses augmented reality, which allows the operator to scan the affected area of the machine and view digital information superimposed on a real-world image of the machine. The process reduced troubleshooting time by 30% to 50% for the Le Vaudreuil plant.

Cybersecurity in the New Normal

As more employees become connected across the enterprise, the need for stronger cybersecurity increases. This is particularly true during the pandemic with more employees working from home. Nathalie Marcotte, Schneider Electric’s president of process automation, and Jay Abdallah, Schneider Electric’s vice president of cybersecurity services, discussed how companies can reduce cybersecurity threats in this “new normal.”

Remote workers are often more susceptible to common threats, like phishing attacks. Organizations need to instill a “cyber first” culture that goes beyond standard guidelines and best practices to ensure their systems are secure in a remote, work-from-home environment. This includes the basics — such as patches and quick software updates — but it also involves a cultural change.

“In the next normal, more than ever, an educated and aware workforce will be the best protection against cyber attacks,” Abdallah said. “In many cases, our people are the first and last lines of defense. Installing best practices and ensuring everyone always follows them is critical. Performing regular risk and threat assessments to identify and address gaps should be an ongoing effort. But we also don’t want to forget about training our personnel as well.”

Lessons Learned From a Disrupted Supply Chain

Among the highlights on day two was a session on how companies can learn from current disruptions to build more resilient and sustainable supply chains moving forward. In his session, Mourad Tamoud, Schneider Electric’s executive vice president of global supply chain, discussed the need for organizations to embrace new business models they’ve adopted to cope with the pandemic. Schneider Electric refers to this concept as “business as unusual,” which entails:

·       Finding a balance between what worked previously and what will be needed in the future
·       Not going back to the way things were, even after lockdowns end
·       The need to lock in and accelerate the changes brought about by COVID-19

For example, in the pre-COVID-19 world, companies utilized “just-in-time” supply chains, offshoring to low-cost countries and cost containment as a competitive advantage. In today’s environment, organizations need to shift their thinking toward “just-in-case” supply chains, or more multishoring to reduce risks and sustainability considerations as a competitive advantage. 

Cloud-based IIoT technologies can help organizations gain the transparency they need across the supply chain to solidify these new approaches for the long term. At Schneider Electric, for example, they allow the company to remain in contact with customers and suppliers, facilitate collaboration among staff who are working remotely and help the company optimize maintenance planning during lockdown, Tamoud said.

“Digital transformation is the basis for achieving these, and this capability has played a crucial role in our own ability to be agile as we went through the last few months,” he said.

Safeguarding Profitability

Profits have taken a hit for many manufacturers as they navigate unchartered territory, but they can adapt and even thrive through digitization, said Sophie Borgne, Schneider Electric’s senior vice president of digital plant business.

Schneider Electric emphasizes energy and asset optimization to safeguard profitability. “Both are achieved through digitization and leveraging the integration of power and process, leading to improvements in capital efficiency and operational profitability as well as gains in productivity and energy efficiency,” she said. 

IT/OT integration is a key step in this process. It allows manufacturers to link energy use to product flow, incoming orders from customers and the sustainability profile of every unit of energy, Borgne said.

An energy-efficiency program built on real-time insights delivers full visibility and control of energy consumption. It also provides a foundation for continuous improvement initiatives and energy-saving plans.

Organizations must continue to identify ways to slash maintenance costs, extend asset life and reduce energy and waste to remain profitable during and after the crisis, event presenters noted. Any steps manufacturers take to offset revenue loss gives them an edge over competitors when economic conditions return to more predictable levels.

To learn more about a practical roadmap for manufacturers in this disrupted world, view Schneider Electric Innovation Talks: A Way Forward for Industry, now available On-Demand! 

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