Schneider Electric and AVEVA complete SMART transformation project at Flint Factory

Schneider Electric and industrial software provider AVEVA have digitally upgraded their factory in Flint, Wales. The project, commenced in late 2018 and costing £300,000, will see the site become the UK’s first Schneider Electric smart factory. 

The SMART transformation project primarily involved retrofitting the existing factory to maximise efficiency and minimise downtime. The hardware solutions deployed were complimented by the full EcoStruxure software suite including Facility Expert, Resource Advisor, Machine Advisor, Augmented Operator Advisor, and AVEVA insight.

The combination of digital tools, unified by EcoStruxure, provide the facility managers with the ability to control and optimise every aspect of the factory. Facility Expert enabled managers to keep a digital logbook of equipment and rapidly identify and respond to any problems within the production site, Machine Advisor provided machine analytics to empower operators with the ability to optimise machine operations and improve reliability, while the AVEVA platform acted as a visualisation platform for continuous operational improvement and real-time decision-making support. 

Schneider Electric’s investment was paid back within just one year, thanks to productivity and a range of efficiency-based savings. Maintenance costs saw a 15% reduction (£91,000) due to the installation of a Lean Digitisation System (LDS) system with Andon alerts and an additional £14,000 in savings thanks to the installation of Intelligent Lighting Systems onsite.

In turn, efficiency at the Flint factory was greatly enhanced. Despite a 20% decrease in demand in 2020 due to COVID-19, Flint’s operational efficiency improved by 5% compared to 2019 levels and productivity increased by 4% – the latter represents £240,000 in savings alone. In 2021, operational efficiency is set to increase a further 7%. 

The transformation also had a range of sustainability benefits. Water consumption was halved – down from 4228m³ in 2019, the highest of any site in the UK, to 2138m³ in 2020, with projections of just 960m³ in 2021. Likewise, improvements to efficiency associated with the installation of variable speed drives, smart panels, and other technological solutions led to a 15% decrease in electricity (KW/h) usage compared to 2019 levels.

Beyond the hardware and software introduced to the site, staff were empowered to become more aware of areas of inefficiency and take ownership of issues. They now have instant access to dashboards, as well as the ability to create alerts to notify them of any changes within the plant.

Project background

Schneider Electric’s site at Flint in Wales is more than 30 years old. Originally operations were set up by MITA, which was acquired by the Lexel Group in 1999 and became part of Schneider Electric in 2009. 

Today, the factory supplies the company’s cable management proposition, manufacturing PVC trunkings for domestic and international use. The factory is midsized, with approximately 125 onsite workers.

Schneider Electric also recently formed a strategic partnership with leading apps, analytics, and services provider AVEVA. Together, the partners are able to deliver best-in-class joint digital transformation solutions, implemented on site and in the cloud. 

Systems overhaul

Prior to the SMART transformation project, the systems within the factory at Flint were outdated, consisting of a large number of analogue production machines. This meant it had limited control of energy-use and the highest water consumption of any UK factory.

The disconnected nature of the legacy third-party machines used at the brownfield site meant that maintenance costs were high, while replacing the machinery was likely to be expensive and labour intensive. There were also issues of safety and excessive operational downtime with a full rip and replace project.

The site required a systems overhaul to improve efficiency, control, sustainability, and safety. In turn, this meant that all staff would need to be trained on how best to use new equipment and technology.

Identifying key pain points and objectives

Given the factory’s high energy expenditure and outdated systems, the site was seen as an opportunity to create a Schneider Electric smart factory – the first of its kind in the UK. 

The process began with a 4-day workshop to identify key pain points and objectives and then design a solution with the support of the factory’s technical team and the Schneider sales team. The team used Schneider solutions and the EcoStruxure platform to monitor and control all the critical process parameters at the factory, from power use to machinery and the building itself. Through this transformation, they planned to enhance both energy and process efficiency.

Once the solution was designed, Schneider Electric invested £300,000 at the end of 2018 to upgrade the site. This was primarily a case of retrofitting the factory, rather than removing and replacing the machinery, as this allowed the company to maximise efficiency and minimise downtime. Since Schneider systems are open and vendor agnostic, all of the different siloed elements of the factory could be effectively brought together for easy process monitoring and management.

The hardware solutions employed included the installation of smart panels, LED lighting, an overflow tank, and smart meters fitted to all machines, which allowed for Schneider’s IIoT solutions to be deployed. This was complemented by the EcoStruxure software suite that included Schneider’s Facility Expert, Resource Advisor, Machine Advisor, Augmented Reality Advisor, and AVEVA’s insight solutions, which offer complete visibility of the site’s operations.

The combination of advisor tools, unified by EcoStruxure, provide the factory managers with the ability to control and optimise all aspects of the factory. Facility Expert enabled facility expert to see all key performance indicators and rapidly identify any problems, Machine Advisor provided machine builders and operators with the ability optimise machine operations and improve reliability, while the AVEVA platform acted as the control platform for continuous operational improvement and real-time decision support. 

Fast payback

Schneider Electric’s investment in smart technology solutions was paid back within just one year thanks to improvements in productivity and a range of efficiency-based savings. 

This is thanks, in part, to the fact that maintenance costs reduced considerably. The saving was split between a 15% reduction (£91,000) in maintenance spend due to the installation of an LDS system with Andon alerts and an additional £14,000 in savings thanks to the installation of Intelligent Lighting Systems onsite.

In turn, efficiency at the Flint factory was greatly enhanced. Despite a 20% decrease in demand in 2020, Flint was recognised as the most productive site in Europe, with operational efficiency up by 5% compared to 2019 levels and productivity up by 4% – the latter represents £240,000 in savings alone. In 2021 operational efficiency is set to increase a further 7%.

The transformation also had a range of sustainability benefits. Water consumption was halved – down from 4228m³ in 2019, the highest of any site in the UK, to 2138m³ in 2020, with projections of just 960m³ in 2021. Likewise, improvements to efficiency associated with the installation of motor control speed drives, smart panels, and other technological solutions led to a 15% decrease in electricity (KW/h) usage compared to 2019 levels.

Beyond the hardware and software introduced to the site, staff were empowered to become more aware of areas of inefficiency and take ownership of any issues. They now have instant access to dashboards, as well as the ability to create alerts to notify them of any changes within the plant.

‘First smart factory in the UK with complete operational visibility and clarity’

Mark Yeeles, Vice President of Industrial Automation at Schneider Electric, said: “From a production and maintenance prospective, the factory used to be digitally blind. Over the course of a few years, we have become the first smart factory in the UK with complete operational visibility and clarity. We have control over real-time processes and can achieve a higher level of sustainability and safety. Given the project achieved a ROI within a year, it’s been an undeniable success for all involved.”

He added: “From a digital transformation project perspective, we say start small but think big. Really, it’s about trying to envision what you want from your plant while looking at the areas that are problem statements for you. Then, once you've got your list of problem statements you can start to build small projects where you can invest a minimal amount for a maximum return. So, doing partly a risk assessment and partly an evaluation of where you can win most can really pay dividends.”

Enrique Herrera, Industry Principal for Manufacturing at AVEVA, said: “Flint is a fantastic success story is all aspects - safety, productivity, and sustainably, at a reasonable cost. The fact that the site saw a return on the investment in smart technology within just a year and dramatic decreases in water and electricity use is testament to the potential for manufacturers to transform the way they operate quickly, cost-effectively, and sustainably. It also demonstrates the continued success of AVEVA and Schneider Electricity’s strategic partnership, which has gone from strength to strength.”

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