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Control Panel Developers and Installers: Modernizing into a Smart Factory

ByGriffin Buckley


Practical Lessons Learned from a Brownfield IIoT Implementation

September 25, 2019 by Zach Tinkler, Business Development Manager Panel Builders; Thomas Eck, Team Lead, Marketing Communications

The industry is changing as End User customers are modernizing their facilities with IIoT-based technologies. The implementation is turning their existing brownfield facilities into Smart Factories – allowing them to reduce downtime, increase productivity and enhance asset management, among other benefits.

To support this shift, these facility owners and specifiers are going to be turning to you to make their Smart Manufacturing vision a reality. To be an expert partner for these customers, developers and installers need to be capable of guiding their customers along the journey and be aware of the challenges that can arise in such an implementation.

We reached out to an expert, Mike Labhart, Senior Manager of Global Supply Chain Smart Factory Innovation in North America, who drove the evolution of a 60-year-old Schneider Electric production facility into one of the Company’s leading Smart Factories. He shared his first-hand perspective – and learnings that will benefit you in taking on similar projects – during a recent interview.

Experiment, Test and Grow

Don’t look at modernization as a huge undertaking. Break it into smaller steps addressing one piece of the facility at a time. Start by connecting one machine, then monitor the productivity and really look at the process insights that you gain from that connectivity. Now, connect another piece and grow from there. In our facility, we did exactly that, investing in a new connected technology and testing it to ensure functionality and that it met our business need and that we gained the real business benefits from that investment. Only then, after we achieved that, did we move to modernizing the next process.

Move Fast in Rough Design

Be agile in your design and move fast – there will be plenty of time for standards and for nailing down the structure. Build a rough design of what you are looking to do, then test it. In Lexington, we passed a few RFID tags through the AVEVA Insight platform in about a day, reading data directly from our PLCs. We shared that with a few of the managers and executives around the plant and it immediately sparked ideas on how the plant could benefit from the new technology. Now, with their enthusiasm and buy-in, we were able to build our system.

Don't Underestimate Cybersecurity

New technologies will allow you to connect with your operation from anywhere in the plant or from your couch at home. This is a great opportunity to stay connected, be alerted to any potential issues and take action before they become a problem. That connectivity must be paired with cybersecurity to ensure the safety of your communications and your overall operation. Find a partner that takes cybersecurity seriously. One that understands certifications, encryption and the steps needed to securely send data back-and-forth to a machine.

Don’t Take Device Acceptance for Granted

Implement modern tools, but understand that for some tools and some employees, special training is going to be needed. I am of the age now where I can say that! I am older than some on my staff and I can see how younger colleagues take to these tools more easily than I do. I know that you need to be persistent and relentless in support of your workforce adopting mobile devices. You don’t go to an employee who has been doing the job for 20 years, hand them a tablet and walk away. Their training on that new device/platform is critical to their success.

This is sound advice from an industry professional who has managed a modernization to take advantage of IIoT technology benefits. Need more perspective? Speak with your Schneider Electric sales contact about visiting the Smarty Factory facility in Lexington, Kentucky. The Lexington Team is happy to host tours, share their story and discuss modernization with customers and partners, including Control Panel Developers and Installers.

Look to Schneider Electric as a strategic partner for tools and strategies for delivering the IIoT and EcoStruxure to your End User customers.

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