INTERVIEW – SCHNEIDER ELECTRIC

Interview with Martin Walder, Vice President of Industry, Schneider Electric

There’s a lot written about industry 4.0. What is you take on it and where are we heading?

Many companies and governments have done a really good job in driving the “Industry 4.0” story, most notably the German government. Their campaigns have given maximum visibility to the changes taking place and created a narrative. However, many of the concepts behind the technology are not new.

In fact, Schneider Electric have been on the front line in bringing the ‘Transparent Factory’ to the market since the late nineties. More recently our ExoStruxure offering that takes this even further. We are working on bridging the gap between building management, IT and power to ensure that it is all operating as part of the same connected environment. Ultimately, we are heading for a more connected space than we have ever seen – and we’re on the right path to see a more connected future.

A lot of large solution providers are focusing on the SME market. Is Schneider, and what can you do for them and what can they do themselves to get started on their own 4.0 journey?

At Schneider Electric, we are working with many forward-thinking blue-chips to implement connected, Industry 4.0 concept solutions. However, we do still recognise that the biggest challenge facing the UK is being able to get all SMEs onto the same curve and way of thinking. I currently sit as chairman of the Engineering and Machinery Alliance where I represent around 2000 engineering and manufacturing SMEs in Britain. Working alongside our trade associations, we are gaining momentum in educating and encouraging the investment in the use of modern automation and digital technologies.

In fact, Schneider Electric are also taking a role in this education. We have developed an extensive innovation hub that allows us to demonstrate simple, practical examples of Industry 4.0, IIoT and digitisation in action to as many SMEs as possible. Our doors are always open to visitors.

If 4.0 is largely about efficiency and ironing out otherwise manual operations through automation, what do you see as the best way to achieve this?

At present, there are not many greenfield plants going up in the UK. This means it’s all about upgrading and evolving what already exists today.Our message is focused around evolution as opposed to revolution. The concept here is that we need to start with small and simple examples of IIoT use cases to show the performance and efficiency gains of the technology.
Not all businesses will be ready to achieve full connectivity today. However, the incremental costs for the IIoT capabilities are small, so it’s worth the investment up front.
We also need to ensure that digitisation, automation and innovation are subjects on the agenda for discussion at every single board meeting. Many of our manufacturing companies have long abandoned those smart, technical and manufacturing capable engineers and it’s more vital than ever before that we start helping them to develop again to give management teams the confidence to implement new technology solutions.

At the Industry 4.0 Summit you spoke about SME’s in supply chain to the major’s and how they can use Industry 4.0 to gain efficiencies? Can you please elaborate on this?

As with larger companies, SMEs can use automation and digitisation to produce components to a higher standard and at a lower cost with fewer staff. They can give themselves the flexibility to turn up and down production output to match the major demand and operate Just in Time (JIT). Digital connection of the SME to the scheduling demand of the Major can really improve efficiencies and satisfaction. More importantly, it brings the companies together more closely.

How is Schneider implementing change across its own organisation?

Digitisation is on the agenda for all C-suite meetings. There is a huge focus on our internal systems and factories too. We have roughly 240 manufacturing sites and we have invested heavily in our own technology, implementing Industry 4.0 techniques to increase efficiencies and enhance productivity. We now have 11 factories acting as showcases around the world and 68 will be up to a similar standard by the end of the year.
We are working hard to deploy the most capable and connected digital offer through EcoStruxure – MV/LV Power, building management, data centre, micro grid, smart factories and smart machines. From the CEO down, every team is partaking in implementing these changes. All divisions must now develop and adopt the latest technologies into the day-to-day.

What’s your view of the UK governments ‘Made Smarter’ reviews? Are there things that they should have included?

I think it is very good and fully support.

How Is your company planning for Brexit?

We manufacture in the UK through 7 factories and also bring in technologies manufactured around the world. We have been through a series of scenarios by planning and costing for each to ensure that we are ready to act – whatever the outcome.

Is Britain ready to adopt industry 4.0. Are there are hurdles to mitigate?

Whilst Britain is certainly ready to adopt Industry 4.0 and should be doing so – we really do need require more employees with the right skills to help companies to accelerate this technology.

As Chair of the Engineering & Machinery Alliance, what are your members main concerns at present?

The skills gap is a big concern for us. We need to governments support to encourage capital investment into this.

Martin Walder speaking at The Industry 4.0 Summit

Martin Walder, VP – Industry at Schneider Electric UK provides insights for the use of autonomous systems for SMEs including benefits, pitfalls to avoid, cost scenarios and potential charging models. For more details visit www.industry40summit.com or www.schneider-electric.com

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