Editor's Choice

Schneider Electric connects to the future

January 2024 Editor's Choice News Electrical Power & Protection

Schneider Electric had a major presence at the recent MESA Africa International Summit, which focused on ‘accelerating the journey to smart manufacturing’. SA Instrumentation & Control’s editor caught up with Dr. Suven M Ramsunder, Digital Transformation Expert, Anglophone Africa, to find out how the company is approaching the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies into the manufacturing industry, both in its own factories and for its customers.

Ramsunder says that AI in manufacturing is about using learning algorithms to create patterns based on relevant data. It breaks down silos of information and brings them together. You can then rely on these algorithms to give you critical parameters relating to key areas such as stock management, automated visual inspection, and industrial safety. This enables you to make decisions and convert them to actions that can be implemented on the plant.

Dr. Suven Ramsunder, Digital Transformation Expert, Anglophone Africa, Schneider Electric.

Data hub

You can’t have AI without data, and Schneider Electric has made significant strides in the creation of one data hub which encompasses both hybrid cloud and on-premise, converging process and energy data to bring together all data sources and applications.


When it comes to sustainability, Schneider Electric is way ahead of the game. Among its many awards, it recently earned a place on Corporate Knights’ 2023 Global 100 list of Most Sustainable Corporations in the world − for the 12th consecutive time.

Schneider  Electric doesn’t just monitor electricity usage, but also looks at ways to use it more effectively. For example, by shifting production schedules to avoid high loads during peak consumption hours on the grid, it has realised savings at many of its plants, and also those of its customers.

This also means having access to information on critical parameters relating to the use of electricity, looking at ways to monitor and better utilise it. This is where its concept of Electricity 4.0 – smart energy – comes in.

The 21st century gave birth to a new world of electricity with the convergence of digital and electric at scale, and this is Electricity 4.0. Together with its partners across the world, Schneider Electric is building a New Electric World that provides smart energy to homes, buildings, data centres, industries, infrastructure and grids.

Smart factories

“It’s all about using electricity more efficiently through AI,” says Ramsunder. “A smart factory is more than just an autonomous unit, it is a digitised facility that utilises connected devices and systems to share and collect data continuously.”

Schneider Electric is one of the few companies that uses its own products in its manufacturing processes, so it can be tested before putting them out to market.

A good example is its Lexington plant in the USA. One of its 80+ smart factories, this plant had been mass producing electrical equipment for more than 60 years. By implementing its EcoStruxure IoT platform, Schneider Electric transformed this brownfield site into a state-of-the-art digital manufacturing facility, which has empowered operators, reduced costs and improved productivity by enhancing its existing processes. Among the many improvements, the Lexington plant has achieved a 78% reduction in CO2 emissions, a 26% reduction in power usage, and a 20% reduction in water consumption.

In addition the company’s Lexington and Le Vaudreuil, France plants have been recognised by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as Sustainability Lighthouses, two of only six worldwide. These plants, together with facilities in Batam, Indonesia, Hyderabad, India, and Wuxi in China, are also designated Advanced 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) Lighthouses. Facilities in Wuhan, China and Monterrey, Mexico, are recognised as Developing 4IR Lighthouses.

The challenges

IIoT has huge benefits, but there are many considerations and potential risks. Some of these are installing new infrastructure, retrofitting existing infrastructure, managing costs, and most of all, people.


Any change brings fear, and in this case it’s the fear of using AI. Ramsunder says that what Schneider Electric is doing very well is educating its people on all new changes as technology evolves. This involves extensive knowledge sharing across the board, visiting customers, and educating and upskilling people. The company ensures that, with any new changes, it’s not just about the automation, but also about how that automation can augment the worker’s situation. It’s about technology and humans working together.

This is the principle of Industry 5.0, and Schneider Electric has been using this principle for a while. Ramsunder adds that technology shouldn’t ever drive the way your business works; the business should drive the way technology is used – your business is driven by people and processes, and is enhanced by technology.

Predictive maintenance

Another critical role for AI is in predictive maintenance. You can have an abundance of information and maintain your systems every three to six months, but still get breakdowns in between.

Meanwhile over-maintaining is expensive. Plant operators often don’t realise the people costs involved with maintenance. At the end of the day the aim is to do as little as possible, while still maintaining the integrity of the plant. Schneider Electric’s software draws models from the data, picking up tiny deviations, and uses these to decide when is the best time for maintenance. This results in huge cost savings, because then you don’t over- or under-maintain.

It is also very important to validate the data − it must be valid and correct, otherwise the conclusions are based on false premises. Schneider Electric’s software validates the data sources in the background. This intelligence is built in by highly qualified domain experts at its Predictive Analytics department in the USA, and is backed by extensive research. It is a ‘locally global’ company, and can monitor a site anywhere in the world. Issues can be picked up quickly, with prompt feedback from the experts in the background.

Connecting to the future

Going forward, Ramsunder says that Schneider Electric is driving digitisation and electrification to realise sustainability and the next-generation automation industry, to accelerating decarbonisation using people and technology. It is not just about putting IoT-enabled devices on machines, but rather using AI to bring in the information to allow you to make the right decisions, with edge control up to the enterprise level. The company’s EcoStruxure IoT platform includes three distinct layers: apps, analytics and software; edge control; and connected products.

The secret is to have the right people creating the right opportunities – giving them the freedom to create new environments and develop new skill sets. This will be accompanied by augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality training in the metaverse. Today is the time to start developing the skills needed for the future.


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