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Like many organizations in Canada and around the world, Fabrication Llenar was looking to make a change for the better. The company wanted to lower its environment footprint by reducing waste and operating more efficiently – ultimately cutting costs, too.

For the Rougemont, Que.- based company, which provides refillable soap dispensers to grocery stores, environmental and operational efficiency meant reducing wasted hours servicing machines that didn’t need it and avoiding any downtime due to empty dispensers.

The company turned to Schneider Electric Canada to help solve the challenges at hand. Schneider Electric is leading the digital transformation of industries. Through its EcoStruxure architecture, which leverages Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology, they are readying companies for smart manufacturing. It’s helped manufacturers like Llenar make better decisions and ultimately increase profit- ability and productivity.

An IIoT system, which connects software and hardware and links equipment through the power of sensors and secure connectivity, is critical for any competitive business, says Luc Chagnon, manager of the solution architecture expert team at Schneider Electric Canada.

“Business need to have the solutions in place that give greater access to data, while enabling smart decision making,” he says. “An IIoT platform is the digital backbone of your industrial operations – connecting software and hardware and linking equipment through the power of sensors and secure connectivity, it unlocks trapped value in your business.”

Now, by monitoring dispensers remotely, Llenar knows when they need to be topped up and can plan the most efficient routes for refill, reducing wasted hours and kilometres. The company can also analyze customer buying patterns, which allows it to refine its logistics for refill trips.

Most impressively, Schneider Electric Canada helped Llenar predict when machines need refills or servicing, using its deep-learning applications.

“It’s no longer having some- one on the road and stopping at every grocery to see if the ma- chine is running well and if the tank is full and okay to deliver to each customer,” Mr. Chagnon says. “It’s about being able to do better analysis to make better, predictive, and more advanced decisions.”

FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION IS HERE

Fabrication Llenar is just one example of a company that has joined what’s known as the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, driven by technologies such as the IoT, IIoT, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

The tech-based transformation — taking place on plant floors, in transportation corridors and in office buildings worldwide — is helping companies be more proactive, productive and more competitive in the rapidly changing economy.

“If you go back 20 years, we may have had data but we didn’t know how to harness it. If you had a machine on the floor, on a production line, the technology and the insights stayed in that building,”Mr. Chagnon says.

IIoT is the latest evolution of connectedness set to transform how products are made and businesses are run.

“Today, IIoT is an open door to connect everything together,” Mr. Chagnon says. “It’s not just from device-to-device, but from device to external apps and analytics. That’s where you get the most powerful outcome, because you can take even the smallest machine and the smallest bit of information and — if you bring that information to this level — you can combine that with other information and use artificial intelligence or deep learning to really understand what is happening.”

It’s the difference between fixing something when it’s broken versus scheduling an- nual maintenance to prevent the breakdown. It’s also about ensuring the machine is per- forming optimally.

With EcoStruxure, Schneider Electric provides dozens of customizable and scalable applications and cyber-secure analytics to suit every organizational structure and goal.

“It’s a global solution and you take the pieces you need depending on what your application is or the outcome expected,” Mr. Chagnon says. “It can be as simple as wanting to remote-connect to a device and always have access.”

EMBRACING INDUSTRY 4.0

New technologies are changing the way products are developed, manufactured and delivered to customers, according to the Business Development Bank. In 2017, it conducted a survey that showed nearly 40 per cent of Canadian small and mid-sized manufacturers have implemented Industry 4.0 projects. Of those, three percent have fully digitized their production and another 17 per cent are in the planning phase.

The survey also says 60 per cent of those with an Industry4.0 project reported increased productivity, with nearly 50 per cent saved on operating costs and 42 per cent saw product quality improve. What’s more, digital adopters were almost twice as likely as non-adopters to forecast annual revenue growth of 10 per cent or more over the next three years.

The report also shows Canadian manufacturers still have a long way to go in their digital transformation. When asked about the biggest challenges to implementing, 42 per cent of manufacturers surveyed cited lack of qualified employees and 38 per cent said it was excessive costs. Thirty-one per cent said there were unclear on the return on investment.

The bank says it’s not too late for companies that haven’t joined Industry 4.0.

“In fact, there’s never been a better time to get involved – technologies have matured and become more affordable and user-friendly,” states the report titled, “Industry 4.0: The New Industrial Revolution.”

Where Industry 4.0 used to be “more of a buzzword,” Mr. Chagnon says companies are starting to understand the benefits – if not the need – to invest in IIoT over the long term. “If we want to stay in the market and compete against any other countries, it’s no longer a choice.”

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