Automation in Energy-Intensive Industries

Automation in Energy-Intensive Industries

This piece was originally published as the chairwoman’s column in the June 2016 issue of ei, the magazine of the electroindustry.

By Maryrose Sylvester, Chairwoman of the NEMA Board of Governors and President and CEO of Current, powered by GE

industrial automation

Digital manufacturing is no longer an idealized future state; it is a fast-maturing and even faster-deploying reality. Manufacturers and heavy-industry companies are no longer alone in their demand for process innovation. Facilities of all types—office buildings, retail locations, and distributions centers—will transform how they function by having open digital networks that connect people, data, and machines.

In this vein, owners, operators, and customers are experiencing the convergence of advanced computing, applied analytics, ubiquitous lower-cost sensing, and new levels of connectivity. Perhaps surprising to some, NEMA member companies are busy creating the tools, software, and know-how in areas many believe to be the exclusive domain of the information technology industry. While the primary focus is productivity improvement, by-products such as a higher-skilled workforce, enhanced user experience, and lower operating costs are noteworthy.

NEMA members such as GE and others are transforming manufacturing by embedding sensors and leveraging software to gather data and use insights to drive productivity and performance optimization. Digital factories create links, “digital threads” so to speak, from product design to supplier management so that manufacturers can see performance and output in real time. This results in reduced product cycle time and unplanned downtime, improved decision making, and supply chain optimization while providing configurable solutions that drive customer outcomes.

Through automation, manufacturers and building operators can control virtually any aspect of their processes, including the amount of energy used. These gains are real—the Department of Energy estimates that automation may increase productivity anywhere from five to twenty percent—and are escalating as technology advances. Technology is driving improvements that are enabling enhanced product performance and delivering unparalleled service levels.

While no two facilities are the same, they all share the same goal: optimal performance through smart resource management. NEMA members of all sizes are abetting the wave of connectivity sweeping across manufacturing and building management. Early returns are sustaining the belief that getting connected will result in higher overall product availability, lower total costs, and improved product and service quality.

This month’s issue highlights some interesting automation solutions. They are only a sample, but these examples are clear signs of the exciting changes taking place in the electroindustry. They signal the intent of NEMA companies to be competitive in the global marketplace and prove that America is not ceding leadership in manufacturing innovation.

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