Schneider Electric Helps Suiker Unie’s Digitalization in Practice

By Dick Hill

Industry Trends

Suiker Unie is a sugar manufacturing company based in the Netherlands.  While the company is over 100 years old, according to Peter van Dam, Asset Performance Management Lead, it started its “ Digitalization in Practice ” journey back in 2011, with the stakeholders creating a vision for the future.  These stakeholders recognized the “need for a more proactive approach in everything we are doing,” according to Mr. van Dam.  Although the market prices in Europe were stable at the time, the global market prices were influencing profitability.

Working with Schneider Electric’s Foxboro Systems

The company’s strategic plan is not only about earning money, but also about the human factor.  Since operating personnel in the company’s factory also maintain the equipment, providing them with current and informative advice was an important factor in the decision to modernize.

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In 2013, Suiker Unie made the decision to change its process automation supplier.  The company selected Invensys, now part of Schneider Electric, to not only provide Foxboro systems, but to also work with it as a partner.  Suiker Unie’s strategy included engineering systems to create a situational awareness operating philosophy.  In 2014, the company put together a team to rewrite the functional specifications.  The goal of the overarching mission statement, “Ambition 2025,” is to create “the nicest and smartest sugar factory in Europe,” explained Mr. van Dam.

Now, the company has transitioned from the original small autonomous teams to encompass everyone in the factory.  It is more than half finished using a unit-by-unit approach that includes optimizing the units that have been upgraded.  The company understands that asset health is a critical factor in being able to operate effectively and profitably.  Last year, it saw a 19 percent startup improvement by using a more proactive approach to managing their machines.  Using analytics and dashboards, the company can provide advice to operators in timely and informative ways, whether they are at the operator workstations or using mobile devices out at the machines.

Digitalization in Practice – Lessons Learned

Mr. van Dam pointed out several important lessons learned.  It is important for both the solution provider and customer to act with a shared vision. He recommends making sure your personnel can be actively involved and help in the road to digitalization.  The use of pilot projects to move to the next steps are important.  Technology providers should have the domain knowledge in addition to automation knowledge.  Ultimately, the company created a multi-vendor operational technology (OT) platform that requires vendor cooperation.  It found that classical project management did not work, since that approach was not agile enough.  In the end, both bottom up and top down approaches were needed.

ARC Recommendations

ARC has been working with manufacturers to help them find the right solutions in their Digital Transformation journey.  Based on what we heard and saw at the recent ARC Industry Forum, several companies like Suiker Unie have made considerable progress in not only transforming their technologies, but also identifying the benefits of proceeding with digital transformation projects.

ARC recommends the following actions for owner-operators and their teams responsible for operational technology, which include their preferred suppliers/partners:

  • Understand your corporate business objectives and align digital transformation strategies with these.
  • Assess the performance of your plant (or plants) to find the gaps and missing potential value.  Express these opportunities and gaps in terms of business value, rather than technical terms such as failure rates, transition times, or other non-financial metrics.  This is a team effort.
  • Develop a strategic plan to improve performance – beginning with the highest value/lowest risk opportunities identified by the assessment.

Perhaps most important, is to make sure that the corporate executives agree with what you and your team are doing.  Ultimately, your team’s findings should be considered along with other CapEx opportunities to maximize asset capabilities throughout the enterprise. 

For more information to help you on your own Digital Transformation journey, please visit our website: Industrial Digital Transformation

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