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Seneca manufacturer shows governor how it’s making factories ‘smart’

Ross Norton //December 18, 2023//

Jacob Young, plant manager of Schneider Electric's Seneca campus, gives Gov. Henry McMaster a tory of the plant. (Photo/Ross Norton)

Jacob Young, plant manager of Schneider Electric's Seneca campus, gives Gov. Henry McMaster a tory of the plant. (Photo/Ross Norton)

Seneca manufacturer shows governor how it’s making factories ‘smart’

Ross Norton //December 18, 2023//

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South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster’s footsteps fell on much of a 280,000-square-foot smart manufacturing facility in Oconee County last week and his eyes scanned most of the rest.

His tour was to see how one of the state’s two Schneider Electric plants has made itself a smart factory and what it’s doing to help other facilities do the same.

A worker on the Schneider Electric production line uses hand tools for her part of a processes that includes robots in other parts of the line. (Photo/Ross Norton)

Schneider Electric produces low-voltage motor control centers used in equipment ranging from production lines to wastewater plants. The company says their products help ensure resilient and reliable power in industrial, commercial and residential settings. Schneider products are found in 40% of American homes, 70% of commercial buildings and half of all hospitals around the world., according to a Schneider Electric fact sheet.

The products are also found inside the 450-worker Schneider Electric plant in Seneca — not just on the production line, but powering the production line and other parts of the building.

“We really look at that full trifecta — automation, electrification, digitization — because that’s what equals sustainability,” Heather Cykoski, senior vice president of industrial automation in North America for Schneider Electric. “We’re really driving the smart factory and utilizing all parts of our core to ensure that we’ve got the efficiencies. We’re deploying it here at our site; we’re doing it as well across North America.”

Schneider Electric employs about 1,200 in South Carolina, including a Columbia plant and a Simpsonville service center. The company was a founding member this year of the SC Nexus consortium that supports the state’s efforts to become a hub for advanced resilient energy research and development.

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“We’re finding that when we deploy automation with software we’re reducing our energy consumption by 30%, our water consumption by 30%, and our CO2 by 30% so it’s like a third and a third and a third,” Cykoski said. “What I like to say is we’re drinking our own champagne. So what we do for our customers and our partners we deploy as well in our own facilities. And I think it’s even more important here because we have generations that have been a part of this company. … We we have innovation of both the know-how (to) use that skillset that they have brought into the facility and then automation to start to create a safe environment and new ways to deploy our manufacturing in an industrial future.”

With support from several of the state’s public universities and the South Carolina Technical College System, McMaster signed an executive order designed to secure South Carolina’s energy future.

“This is exactly the kind of thing we’re trying to do for our people and our state,” the governor said after his tour of the factory. “There are a lot of happy people working in there and like other manufacturers you’re always looking for more and our state, through the Department of Employment and Workforce and the technical college system and everything in between, we are determined to see that our people are trained and educated in order to keep companies like this – this being a worldwide company – to keep them at the top of their game.”

McMaster said the state is supporting education and training efforts from 4K through college to build a workforce ready for the challenges ahead.

“We want to do things better, more efficiently, we are wide open to the future through our emphasis on electric vehicles through all kinds of manufacturing,” he said. “South Carolina is booming and it is because companies like this one have confidence in our people and our people have confidence in companies like this one. This is what the future looks like and your goals for more efficiency and modernization and digitalization and all of that is exactly the kinds of things that we want to do.”

The governor also predicted the state’s manufacturing growth will not be short lived.

“I think manufacturing is just revving up in the United States,” he said. “I think we realize more and more just how important it is to have what we need inside the country. With these supply line problems there are a lot of serious problems in parts of the world and so we must be self-reliant. That’s one reason that companies are coming here because is a safe place to work. You can invest billions of dollars and you don’t have to worry about the government taking over or other bad consequences that we’ve seen in other places.”