Lexington, Ky. is known for its Thoroughbreds— sinewy horses carefully bred and trained to run hard but also use every joule of energy wisely. You could say a smart factory runs the same way. These manufacturing facilities leverage competitive advantages such as the Industrial Internet of Things,
robots, and data analytics to boost productivity and reduce
waste. That’s why it’s fitting that last month Schneider Electric
chose to convert its Lexington plant into its first American
smart factory. There are 41 Schneider factories overall in
North America, the only other “smart” one in Mexico.
The 485,000-ft² plant, opened in 1957, produces 2. 8 million load centers and 800,000 safety switches per year. The
French energy and automation solution provider hopes adding
its EcoStruxure Io T-enabled architecture and platform—along
with many related applications and edge devices—will spur
all of industry to race towards a more sustainable future.
Climate alarmists say we only have 12 years to finish the
sustainability race—by completely rethinking how buildings
are made and energy is used. Everything must change, and
fast, they say. On June 13, the day of the Lexington plant’s
relaunch, I attended the first tour and was struck by how it
was remodeled in the spirit of sustainability, but with nary an
apocalyptic warning to be found. Instead, we found only real,
scalable examples. Maybe that’s the benefit of being around since 1836, as Schneider
has—you’re not easily swayed.
Schneider is open to change though, especially when it comes to technology.
At each station in the plant, a green-shirted guide was holding a tablet—an increasingly
common site throughout the company’s operations.
“In the last two years, tablets in the hands of employees have grown tenfold because
everything we are doing has become digitized,” says Ken Engle, Senior V.P. of Supply
Chain, North America for Schneider, and the plant manager at Lexington 12 years ago.
“What digitalization has enabled us to do is provide immediate info to the right people
to solve the problem.”
Those guides also pointed to giant monitors during their talks, which boasted impres-
sive achievements brought about by gradually smartening up, like eliminating 90% of
paperwork and reducing downtime 5% by alerting appropriate leaders and technicians.
“The biggest differences I see is the speed at which the factory runs compared to
when I was here 12 years ago, and also the efficiency at which it runs,” Engle says.
“People are more connected, more engaged and therefore we have better ideas and
The whole thing could be perceived as a not-so-subtle sales pitch for various edge
devices, the overall EcoStruxure platform, or maybe the AVEVA asset management soft-
ware. It could also be viewed as a compelling argument for why Schneider boldly and
frequently refers to itself as the leader in the digital transformation of energy management
and automation. But all I saw, and what at its heart this smart factory represents, is the
unbridled optimism that the digital transformation can create not only a more profitable
business, but a better world.
Schneider currently has more than 200 factories, about 60 of which can be classified as
“smart.” By the end of 2020, it wants that number to hit 100. What’s going on here could
inspire that number to increase exponentially, if customers are swayed by the results.
EcoStruxure’s use is broad and serves all industries, from factories and grid providers
to office buildings and hospitals. Some notable improvements include increasing equip-
ment availability by 50% to reducing carbon footprint by half. Cost for maintenance can
reduce by as much as 75% and plant savings overall are 30% on average.
Lexington is now one of 11 Schneider plants where customers are encouraged to
visit to see the various EcoStruxure-driven innovations, which range from RFID tracking
to data visualization, in action. A brownfield site was deliberately chosen to show how
the various branches of EcoStruxure can thicken into solid trunks on which to build a
digital strategy. So far, it’s got an outstanding track record, slashing critical equipment
repair time by 20% with its AR app and boosting year-over-year energy savings by 3.5%
with power monitoring software.
“We understand the value of IIo T and the positive business impact that innovation and
digitization can have on our operations—particularly in our global supply chain,” says
Mourad Tamoud, E.V.P. of Schneider Electric’s global supply chain. “As a living example
By John Hitch
The reftted Kentucky site leverages Schneider’s own EcoStruxure platform to drastically improve effciencies
with hopes of setting a new benchmark for sustainability and proftability.