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Digitalisation:  Moving forward

01 May 2014

Activity in the UK manufacturing sector is most definitely on the up, but how do UK manufacturers convert increased activity to performance on a global scale? The answers lie in technology. Here, Jez Palmer, plant solutions business development manager at Schneider Electric, shares his views on digitalisation and explains why acting now will protect the manufacturing of tomorrow

It is no longer just about automating processes, but about making the move to digitalise them. Some businesses are already adapting and implementing change, but many are not positioned to succeed where competition is rife.  

Being able to act quickly to meet growing consumer demands and changing needs while retaining a competitive edge, relies on the ability to be flexible.  Having access to insightful information is crucial to make informed decisions that will reduce costs and ultimately future-proof the business.

The issue of achieving integration and communication between disparate systems within an enterprise has long been debated, being viewed by many as a difficult and highly costly process.  Each of the different disciplines which exist within the facilities of today require robust, dedicated solutions to manage, control and monitor that specific environment in detail.  This leaves many overwhelmed with large volumes of data delivered from each of these systems – much of which is duplicated – on a daily basis.  In effect, many are left data rich, but information poor.  

Gone are the days when every process was viewed in silo – integration is now king.  Being able to view and monitor all systems from a central point enables manufacturers to access a complete view of their plant from anywhere at any time.  Traditionally, this level of integration has come at a premium cost, which has meant that only larger enterprises have adopted it.

Most UK manufacturers will have a mix of new and legacy products in their processing lines.  Not all of these will need to be replaced – the key is digitally driving communication between them so plant operators can take an informed view of what needs updating and replacing and when, plus wastage issues and energy use.

The technology of today allows intelligence to be added to any device, which feeds into one system, giving manufacturers a complete overview.  Digitalising processes not only ensures they are as efficient as possible so costs remain low, but also breeds flexibility, as processes can be re-programmed with speed to meet larger orders, global trends or new product lines. 

To help UK manufacturers compete more efficiently on a global scale while reducing energy consumption, Schneider Electric has launched StruxureWare software suites.  The software is a platform of integrated applications and bespoke suites that deliver visibility into energy and resource across any organisation.  

The software eliminates the information gap that has traditionally existed between information and operational technology roles and can integrate with third-party and legacy systems across different domains.  StruxureWare software enables users to see, measure, and manage critical data across an entire enterprise and can be tailored to suit each organisation’s needs.  

The importance of manufacturing to the UK economy is paramount and despite the issues the sector is facing, the industry is still set to expand further in 2014.  However, to compete on a global market and secure a leading role for the UK, in-line with government targets, companies need to understand that transformational change is required and emerging technologies present the ideal opportunity to achieve this.  The time to embrace the digital revolution is now.