Practical Tips for Modernizing into a Smart Factory

Practical Tips for Modernizing into a Smart Factory

This piece was originally published in the September/October 2019 issue of electroindustry.

Zach Tinkler, U.S. Key Accounts Channel Manager, Schneider Electric

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 programmable logic controllers. 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. ei

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