How Schneider Electric Uses Industrial Technology And Automation To Advance Efficiency And Reduce Environmental Impact

April 21 09:16 2024

The U.S. manufacturing industry contributed $2.3 trillion to the national GDP in 2022. These businesses not only support society’s growth but also are poised to have the greatest impact on solving sustainability problems. By embracing innovative digital technologies to boost efficiency, industrial enterprises can meet market needs while also conserving energy and safeguarding people and the natural environment.

It’s why companies like sugar producers, detergent makers and water providers are adopting technologies to become more sustainable as they also race to modernize.

And in 2023, U.S. lawmakers signed new legislation that could do a lot to ignite those transformations. By prioritizing funding, tax incentives, reshoring, new jobs and clean energy, for example, the laws aim to promote industry growth while advancing sustainability.

For Heather Cykoski, senior vice president of industrial automation at the industrial tech company Schneider Electric, combating climate change isn’t just a personal vision. “It’s a corporate responsibility,” she says. “Industrial businesses need innovation at their fingertips, and we have to ensure it’s driving us toward a greater world.”

Constant innovation is how 180-year-old Schneider Electric evolved from a major player in steel and machinery to an industry champion of digital—and environmental—change. Today, Schneider Electric is both a practitioner and provider of digitally driven sustainability. Recognized as a corporate leader in sustainability worldwide, it provides cutting-edge, integrated solutions to help industrial businesses digitize and automate operations to be more secure, reliable, sustainable and profitable.

Below, learn how Schneider Electric helps partners apply its sustainability strategy—which combines technology, people and processes—to cultivate a healthier planet.

Tapping Into Tech To Cut Emissions

“Sustainability is at the core for us and our customers,” says Cykoski. “We’re providing the technology, the data and the software that can help reduce energy consumption and waste.”

To offset the environmental costs of their factories and facilities, says Cykoski, industrial businesses need to reduce consumption, lower their carbon footprint and embrace a more circular economy—one that’s based on using and recycling existing resources.

But the idea of achieving these goals while pursuing digital transformation can overwhelm leaders who might view sustainability as counter to profitability, she says. In reality, the efforts work in tandem: The digitization and automation that transform a company’s operations make it more sustainable, too.

Take a 65-year-old factory in Lexington, Kentucky: In 2017, Schneider Electric launched a program to transform it into a smart factory with next-gen automation and digital integration across its many disparate operations, teams and systems.

With the EcoStruxure Platform—an IoT-enabled, open platform that serves as the secure backbone for Schneider Electric’s solutions—and the AVEVA System Platform for standardized data management and analytics, the factory streamlined power distribution, building management systems, industrial automation equipment and edge IT deployments across the entire facility for the first time.

This connectivity delivers expansive visibility of day-to-day operations, helping factory employees track metrics like energy use and power quality to ensure the entire ecosystem is accountable to its environmental benchmarks. Cykoski says the factory’s success—which includes a 4.4% reduction in carbon emissions year over year—shows that older plants can retrofit while also contributing to climate progress.

The factory was deemed a sustainability “Lighthouse” in 2017—an honor given to only three manufacturing leaders in the world at that time—and six factories within Schneider Electric’s global manufacturing network have achieved “Global Lighthouse” recognition since.

Schneider Electric benefits from its own tools, too. Drawing from AVEVA’s real-time analysis on trends, processes and profitability, for instance, the company automated its paint line production and reduced electrical demand by 30%.

“We’ve proven in our own smart factories and with our customers that sustainability and profit go hand in hand,” Cykoski says. “You’ll make your shareholders happy by adopting sustainability practices because you’re using less energy, reducing waste and seeing cost savings by being more efficient.”

How People And Processes Power Sustainability

To complement digital solutions, businesses also need to upskill staff and reimagine outdated processes. “It’s not just software and machines—it’s that combination of tech and humans,” says Cykoski. “Digital transformation is about culture and empowering the workforce to manage and improve tools and processes.”

This starts by showing employees how operational enhancements like automating workflows away from spreadsheets and paper-and-pencil tracking, for example, can enrich day-to-day business.

Companies should train teams to move on from legacy equipment and siloed systems, says Cykoski, and instead embrace the standardized architectures and automation that augment everyone’s performance.

From there, generating buy-in from both leaders and rank-and-file employees is what’s required to advance beyond the status quo and ensure that sustainability is genuinely valued by every employee.

How Industrial Businesses Are Cutting Emissions And Costs

Using its sustainability approach that prioritizes technology, people and processes, Schneider Electric partners with customers from a variety of sub-industries across the globe—helping them digitize while improving environmental impact.

A large water services provider worked to monitor and optimize its entire water supply system with automation and IoT-enabled technology designed to help operators control water cycles in facilities like water treatment plants and sanitation networks. Since adopting the solution, the company cut water losses to almost half the national average and observed a 20% improvement in operational efficiency.

A consumer goods and chemicals company partnered with Schneider to conserve resources during the production of its laundry detergent, which included solving how to optimize the energy-intensive spray-drying process. With a control system delivering integrated process visualization, the company was able to automate the process and boost energy efficiency by up to 5%.

And in the food and beverage space, where mere minutes of cleaning downtime can threaten revenue gains, software that digitalizes quality management and improves traceability with real-time data analytics helps companies harness insights on operational trends to streamline cleaning and minimize costs. One leading bottled water company, for example, reduced downtime by 20% and used 50% less CO2 after adopting the solution.

A Vision For Industrial Sustainability

Cykoski hopes other industrial businesses are inspired by progress so far and advises them to partner with a leader like Schneider Electric, whose new industrial digital transformation consulting service helps businesses deploy the automation, electrification and digitization solutions required for sustainable digital transformation.

It’s tough, urgent work that has to be done collectively, Cykoski says. “We’ve got a long journey ahead of us, and no one company can solve industrial sustainability on its own. It’s important to work with partners that share the same goals so we can all do it together.”

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