France is the third largest economy in Europe based on GDP, seventh on a Global scale. With the "Hexagon" being the birthplace of many manufacturing moguls, it represents an enormous opportunity for todays industry-redefining digitalisation wave. Some are afraid that the country is lagging behind: earlier this year the country's Secretary of State on Economics and Finances, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, still sent out the clear message that adopting Industry 4.0 cannot be considered an option any more. On the shop-floor the reality is different however. During our numerous trips in the country as well as trade fairs such as #SEPEM Rouen we had the opportunity to have a chat with multiple line managers and maintenance directors. Almost all are actively looking for hands-on solutions to make sure their production machines don't stop unexpectedly.
To non-natives, France still has the image of being very traditionalist and preferring classical craftsmanship above disruptive innovation. As with many things in life: outside appearance often doesn't tell the whole story. The same holds for its manufacturing industry, where the country has a rich tradition in various activity domains, such as metal production, car manufacturing, machine building up to even entire airplanes to list a few. When looking closer at the sector we also discover an interesting mix of older sites with a lot of history and 'savoir-faire' as well as brand new automated production lines in newly developed industrial areas.
In the past few months we've spent quite some time in our neighbouring country, avoiding the Côte d'Azure region in order not to get too distracted. A number of road trips in the country as well as the SEPEM trade fair in Rouen allowed us to compose a quite complete view of its industrial tissue. We were pleased to see so many engineers and line managers with a very open mindset. Most are aware of this next wave of industrial revolution where sensors and data analysis can be of great value in making their life easier and operations more efficient. Questions we received most frequently were related to either the possibility to automatically determine optimal setting parameters for machines to maximise productivity or solutions to avoid sudden breakdown of installations.
The slightly traditionalist aspect did surface however once in a while when asking what could be done with already existing hardware or installations to reach the goal, as opposed to implementing a full-fledged, all-inclusive new monitoring system. For the majority of actual applications this is not an issue at all and in most cases it even represents the preferred approach. By integrating pre-existing systems the CAPEX of an installation can be limited, the downtime related to deploying the system can be kept minimal and complexity is reduced. In such cases data is extracted from PLCs and Scada systems or other data aggregation sources such as iBA or PTC and combined with a set of additional relevant sensors with a dedicated acquisition system. This also is in line with our vision on a more sustainable industry: as long as a component or installation is fulfilling its role with the required quality, (re-)use it as long as possible and do the effort to keep it in an optimal shape.
We can conclude by stating that combining existing controllers or data sources with a strong platform for data analysis represents the perfect opportunity to render existing production sites much more intelligent. This means tradition and innovation can be combined perrfectly. As such the 4th industrial revolution can become a reality in France a lot sooner than many expect, helping to make sure that the country's production industry will maintain or even strengthen its position in the top of the global charts for many years to come.
Pannier-Runacher, A. (2020, January 6). " L'industrie 4.0 n'est pas une option pour notre économie ". Retrieved February 14, 2020, from https://www.lesechos.fr/idees-debats/cercle/lindustrie-40-nest-pas-une-option-pour-notre-economie-1160455