- The Plovdiv plant is the second smart factory of the French group Schneider Electric in Europe.
- Using machine learning, the company prevents equipment damage and controls quality.
- Administration is only 7% of the staff thanks to the high automation of business activities.
When the mobile phones at the Schneider Electric factory in Plovdiv ring, it does not always mean an incoming call from customers or partners. Through their smart devices, the specialists at the circuit breaker plant receive a signal that certain parameters are out of the norm and the equipment can stop. This allows for a quick response to prevent damage to expensive machinery or stoppage of production.
This is just one example of why the Plovdiv plant was certified in 2019 as a Smart Factory by owner Schneider Electric – only the second Smart Factory within the French group. The enterprise is also an innovation hub for the region, where everyone can learn about various digital solutions and see them implemented in practice in the workshop.
Another smart factory is currently being built on the plant site, which will increase the company’s production by 30%. This will provide it with additional growth, after revenues rose by 18% to BGN 254 million in 2021. Together with the commercial office in Sofia, Schneider Electric employs about 900 people.
An extensive network of information systems and software applications enables the company to monitor and manage virtually all business activities. And key data is constantly collected, processed and visualized on the many screens on the production floor. “By 2022, we will have about 800 people in the plant, and only 7% is the administrative staff. This shows how well we are automated,” said the director of the plant in Plovdiv, Martin Yordanov.
One of the key parameters that Schneider Electric monitors as a manufacturing company is process efficiency. The energy efficiency of the plant, including the carbon footprint, is also automatically measured. Interestingly, all the company’s subcontractors in the country, which are mainly engaged in the assembly of products, are connected in one supply management system. The plant in Plovdiv is one of the pilot plants where a Schneider Electric development was introduced, providing information on the productivity of each individual operator. “It is important for us to track daily progress, because it is related to the level of competence,” Yordanov explained.
The main part of the digital tools that the plant uses are solutions provided by the Schneider Electric group. However, about 20% of the developments were made in Bulgaria.
Machines learn by themselves
For quality control, the plant has specially developed solutions based on “deep learning” technology. About 20 self-learning cameras are located at critical points in the production process, which recognize possible defects.
Machine learning is also used for predictive maintenance, which can save significant costs. Such an example is one of the most expensive components in the equipment – the so-called laser printers, which are used to mark the final product according to the market and according to the specifics of the client. “There, we have preemptively set limits on several critical characteristics for the laser itself, and we receive automatic signaling before they are reached and the equipment stops,” Yordanov explained.
The signal itself comes by phone and email. “We have an escalation ladder – whether it’s a lack of material or a problem with the equipment. If the problem is not fixed within 24 hours, the system automatically informs me,” says Yordanov. However, his phone rings much faster if the question is related to safety – then the response time is 1 hour.
All digital solutions – for production management, for tracking various indicators and components, can be seen in the interactive innovation hub of the plant, and then live in the workshop. The curious thing is that the center is accessible to all kinds of visitors, including competitors, who often visit. “We are extremely open in this regard, we have no secrets that we would like to keep only for ourselves,” Yordanov clarifies.
Also available to external clients is the so-called academy created 4 years ago. lean manufacturing (lean production), although its main goal is to develop the personnel of Schneider Electric. The training lasts 9 months and covers topics such as optimizing material flows, solving problems, presenting, etc.
Schneider Electric’s Building Management System (BMS) provides a bird’s-eye view of the entire plant and monitors specific benchmarks (temperature, equipment carbon footprint, etc.) at every point. Next year, the company even plans to install a large smart monitor at the entrance. “Thus, everyone will be able to choose the appropriate location in the plant and view all the indicators,” Yordanov said.
The ongoing production expansion project will help reduce the carbon footprint. As part of it, a special installation for heating with geothermal energy will be built. Although the company currently only uses natural gas for a few months in the winter, the installation will make it completely independent of the fuel.
Currently, the company’s carbon reporting system does not cover the entire supply chain, but that will soon change. “Schneider Electric’s overall strategy is to be carbon neutral by 2025, and that means our chain must be as well,” Yordanov said.
The manufacturer of automatic circuit breakers “Schneider Electric Bulgaria” is one of the six finalists for the Factory of The Year Award, which “Capital” organizes in partnership with the Municipality of Plovdiv and Trakia Tech. Shortlisted companies undergo an additional interview with technology consultant Novarto. The final winner will be selected by an independent jury and will be announced at the awards ceremony on December 8. He will carry the prize until the next edition of the competition in 2023.