A mere 2.5-hour drive south on I-75 June 13 brought me to the Schneider Electric plant in Lexington, KY that manufactures load centers and other electrical devices. Schneider Electric marketing people invited me down for tours and festivities marking the unveiling of this brownfield manifestation of Smart Factory using the latest of IIoT, AR, digitalization, and other smart manufacturing principles.

Highlights:

• Schneider Electric Lexington facility is a showcase for sharing IIoT integration strategies with End Users, Machine Builders and Partners

• Lexington plant strategically integrates connected EcoStruxure solutions to enhance efficiency and provide end-to-end operational visibility throughout supply chain operations

• Smart Factory has tracked quantifiable benefits from IIoT implementation, including a 20% reduction in mean time to repair and a 90% paperwork elimination

If this plant is to demonstrate “in real time how its EcoStruxure architecture and related suite of offerings can help increase operational efficiency and reduce costs for its customers”, I asked the natural question—“What is EcoStruxure?”

I’ve heard the term for many years, but being a little slow on the uptake, I’ve never really understood what is meant. So, they set me up with an interview with Vice President Domenic Alcaro. Refreshingly, EcoStruxure is neither a platform or a product. Alcaro told me, “EcoStruxure is a phenomenal way to explain our value structure.” The foundation block consists of connected products (connectivity being a key word). The intermediary block is what they call Edge Control. However, whereas many people look at Edge and think hardware, Schneider Electric considers it basically software. Think the InduSoft HMI product, if you will. Atop the model then are apps and analytics.

Back to the plant:

In operation for more than 60 years and employing nearly 500 people, the Lexington factory is truly a showcase of modern integrated digital experience. Among the benefits realized include empowering operators to gain visibility into operations maintenance, driving a 20% reduction in mean time to repair on critical equipment, and process digitization eliminating paper work by 90%.

“We understand the value of IIoT and the positive business impact that innovation and digitization can have on our operations – particularly in our global supply chain. As a living example of how our EcoStruxure solutions deliver benefits to our customers, we are gaining those same benefits in our operation and sharing that knowledge,” said Mourad Tamoud, Executive Vice President, Global Supply Chain, Schneider Electric. “With our latest Smart Factory showcase, we are able to demonstrate this value in real-time, show the solutions at work and share the tangible benefits that we ourselves are seeing from our own IIoT investment as we accelerate our Tailored Sustainable Connected 4.0 digital transformation.”

As part of the Smart Factory program, Schneider Electric exemplifies brownfield implementation for customers who may be facing the same challenges with their existing production facilities. The team is able to offer strategies and talk through the challenges they faced to help customers exploring IIoT connected technologies overcome those same hurdles toward their modernization goals. By sharing their experience in leveraging EcoStruxure solutions, visiting customers can better understand the value of the brownfield modernization and the resulting operational efficiencies.

In this production environment, these solutions have demonstrated operational and quantifiable value since their implementation:

• EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor – Delivered a 20% reduction in mean time to repair on critical equipment where it has been implemented.

• EcoStruxure Resource Advisor and Power Monitoring Expert – Delivered 3.5% YOY energy savings in the Lexington facility in addition to $6.6 Million in regional savings since 2012; sophisticated reporting capabilities and increased transparency also drive operational performance.

• AVEVA Indusoft Web Studio – Delivered powerful Edge digitization of paper processes to eliminate paper work by 90% and cloud connectivity has enabled digital dashboarding of a critical process.

• RFID OsiSense – Eliminated 128 daily fork truck miles and eliminated $500,000 in Work in Progress (WIP) inventory with a 33% first year ROI.

• AVEVA Insight Data – Unlocked and shared silos of data in a mobile manner reducing downtime in critical processes by 5% with ROI of less than 6 months.

• Magelis GTU/GTUX HMI – Provided agile operator management of the process and vivid visual of the process onsite and via mobile devices.

Among the tidbits of information I picked up on the tour include:

Extensive use of Ethernet and IP networking. Interesting in that the very first conversations I had with a Modicon VP 20 years ago concerned how Ethernet was the network of the future. In 1999 that was revolutionary thinking. Today—it’s the backbone. Hat tip to Mark Fondl.

Great use of data tracking involving RFID tags, MES software, Ethernet connectivity, and visualization that coordinates all the products and containers throughout the company-wide power-and-free conveyor system.

Oh, and a Megelis computer/HMI collecting data from sensors and passing it on uses Node-RED for programming. It’s only the second instance of Node Red I’ve seen in automation.

Finally, Schneider Electric plant management correctly combines digitalization with Lean principles enhancing their daily stand ups and feeding continuous improvement.

Impressive facility. When our politicians and east coast journalists go ripping on American manufacturing, they should be forced to take deep dives into plants like this one.

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