Home » Manufacturing » Electricity 4.0 is here and cannot be ignored

Chris Collins

Country President, Schneider Electric Ireland

The global energy crisis has put Ireland’s manufacturers under pressure — but by being open to change, the future is bright.

Electricity 4.0 is not just a buzz phrase. It offers Ireland’s manufacturers a positive future. Manufacturers must think differently about how they use electricity and embrace change, says global energy management company Schneider Electric.

Careful decision-making

The company’s country president, Chris Collins, believes Ireland has some major decisions to take over the next few years to ensure its power source is decarbonised, digitised and decentralised.

“We have to look again at how we produce and consume electricity — and embrace new business models,” he says. “Many manufacturers have seen the utility costs increase four or five-fold, but this is as much about future resilience — and keeping manufacturing plants operating and avoiding blackouts — as it is about cost.”

This is why the industry talks about Electricity 4.0 and how producers should rethink how energy is sourced, used and wasted by them and by their customers. Ultimately, companies will need to have a better understanding of their current energy spending to be able to devise energy reduction strategies and move towards a decarbonised electrical supply. This could mean considering new meter options.

When a product comes to the end of its life, there needs to be a process in place to get it back into a factory and refurbished using the latest technology.

On-site electricity generation

Schneider Electric’s next-generation solutions include the introduction of microgrids. These are self-contained electrical networks that enable manufacturers to generate their own electricity on-site.

The microgrid connects, monitors and controls a facility’s energy resources while boosting sustainability and resilience. Having a microgrid also means a producer can react to rising and falling energy prices. Early adopters of microgrids include hospitals, data centres and other facilities where power reliability and resiliency are essential.

Collins cites the example of the company’s operation in Grenoble, France where it had 19 buildings that were inefficient in terms of energy. It consolidated everything into five buildings on a new site which now produces 102% of the electricity it consumes. There is solar and wind power generation on-site and energy storage facilities. The site is also connected to the grid for renewables and is feeding electricity into the city of Grenoble.

Simulation with digital twins

Manufacturers must also think about circularity when considering new concepts so that more products can be recycled. “When a product comes to the end of its life, there needs to be a process in place to get it back into a factory and refurbished using the latest technology,” says Collins.

He also wants to see more investment in universal automation to free up employees to focus on the things they are good at and to speed up the manufacturing process from ideas to production.

“We are already seeing examples when constructing factories. We can create a digital twin at the design phase and simulate how a building will react under different environmental constraints,” he adds. “We can simulate using various materials and calculate how these would impact the carbon footprint of the facility as we aim for net zero targets.”

Embracing AI for the economy

Investing in automation also means investing in artificial intelligence (AI) and embracing the Internet of Things to connect different parts of the manufacturing process. “Humans do not have the capacity to sift through all the data that is being generated nowadays, so this is where AI comes in. It can help manufacturers to make real-time decisions that increase productivity and make production lines more efficient,” says Collins.

As Ireland’s manufacturers accept the need for change and the country becomes a global leader in Electricity 4.0, then it will boost the wider economy. “Ireland has the skills and a track record in this area plus an educated workforce,” adds Collins. “If you are a pharmaceutical company looking for somewhere to build your next life sciences plant, for example, then we know that Ireland can demonstrate that it has the expertise to execute that project.”

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