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EcoCare: Transforming energy efficiency with tailored digital solutions

Author : Sophia Bell, Group Editor, DPA

04 April 2024

At its new Experience Centre in Warrington, Schneider Electric unveiled EcoCare, a new membership platform aimed at providing bespoke solutions to customers embarking on their net zero journey. Here, Group Editor Sophia Bell breaks down what this means for the manufacturing industry.

Energy efficiency has never been more important. Over the past few years, energy has not only become significantly more expensive, but also more volatile.

Bolstered first by the pandemic and then by the development of more advanced AI, the world is also digitising faster than we've ever seen. According to Schneider Electric, this will increase the demand for electricity by more than 20GW by 2028, posing a further challenge for manufacturers looking to decarbonise their operations.

Recognising this, Schneider Electric has recently announced the launch of EcoCare, a membership service designed to optimise energy management through digital technology. With 24/7 site monitoring and expedited emergency response times, EcoCare promises customers exclusive access to expert support and next-generation technologies. Through this tailored approach, members can reduce downtime by up to 75 percent and extend asset life cycles, while reducing carbon emissions.

Although energy efficiency has been a priority for many years, EcoCare signals a completely new approach for Schneider Electric.

“We've landed on EcoCare because we recognise that customers' needs are constantly changing,” said David Pownall, Vice President of Services and Safety.

“Their priorities are changing. Their market is changing. Their competition is changing. And we need a program that we can deliver to them that can be flexible enough to address all of those needs.”

Condition-based monitoring: Say goodbye to waste

The number of unplanned events that occur on a daily basis is staggering. According to Schneider Electric, around 40 percent of all maintenance activities are pointless. In fact, when it comes to preventative maintenance, the number rises to 60 percent.

That’s where EcoCare comes in. Schneider’s vision is to support customers in moving from a preventative to a condition-based maintenance approach.

“We want to drive out carbon, contribute to sustainability, and move into [a] condition-based maintenance world, as everything becomes connected and more intelligent,” said Antoine Sage, Chief Financial Officer.

The savings are significant. Condition-based maintenance not only reduces the amount of time, money and energy spent on unnecessary activities, but also uses predictive technologies to warn you of critical failures before they happen.

How it works

So, what differentiates EcoCare from other customer contracts? “It's more than just a name change because it's a lot more than just a contract,” said Chris Haines, Field Service Representative at Schneider Electric. Contracts, Haines explained, are static and limited to supporting customers’ infrastructure today – their immediate needs.

EcoCare, meanwhile, “is much more collaborative and transformative”, supporting what customers already have, but also “helping them transition to a much more digital, and so more efficient, more resilient, and more sustainable future”.

The process is broken down into three key segments:

1.          EcoConsult: Understanding the current status, identifying the starting point and how the customer can plot their journey

When you become a member, the first stage is for Schneider Electric experts to carry out an assessment of your site. The information is then digitally delivered through the mySchneider customer portal, which provides the health matrix of all your assets. Straight away, you can see what's connected, what's at risk, and what's obsolete. This is particularly useful for companies who are struggling with limited resources (for example, hospitals) as it allows them to tackle maintenance backlogs intelligently.

Instead of connecting every aspect of your plant – a process that is both time and money intensive – EcoCare uses a ‘consult and connect’ model that helps you identify which aspects of your plant need to be prioritised.

2.         EcoFit: Modernising, upgrading, repairing or remanufacturing assets, rather than replacing

Through EcoCare, customers’ assets are supported throughout their entire life cycle. Instead of replacing equipment, companies are encouraged to remanufacture, re-engineer and repurpose, helping them to move into a circular economy.

“We're not talking about rip and replace. We’re helping our customers design, advise, maintain, and fix,” Haines said.

Meanwhile, experts, working at the company’s Connected Services Hubs, are constantly analysing that data and making recommendations. So far, around 850 sites are connected to the facility in Warrington, for example, with about 250 sending data on a daily basis. Approximately 20,000 alarms were interrogated, investigated, and escalated last year alone.

3.          EcoCare: Giving intelligence to the customer so that they can make better decisions to be resilient

Instead of checking assets manually, they are monitored automatically, 24/7, through the use of AI, which can sift through thousands of data points to provide crucial information on trends, algorithms, and patterns. This allows the customer both to receive real-time data and to build up a picture of how their systems have performed over time.

However, although AI plays an important role in this process, the experts, who understand the site and application, are essential to interpreting and translating the data into actionable insights for the customer.

Globally, Schneider employs over 125 experts, supporting 140 countries. Across seven dedicated hubs, customers are offered an 86.3 percent first-time fixed rate (FTFR), meaning that the vast majority of cases can be solved remotely. Such technical expertise is indispensable for an industry struggling with an ever-widening skills gap. It also results in both monetary and environmental benefits, reducing the costs and emissions associated with despatching an engineer to their sites.

Case study: Johnson & Johnson

One of the customers that has already benefited from EcoCare is pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J). Previously, the company employed a traditional preventative maintenance approach, taking electrical equipment out of service for maintenance every two years, regardless of condition. Now, thanks to support from Schneider Electric, J&J has successfully moved to a condition-based model.

Like many multinational companies, J&J has ambitious sustainability goals. These include sourcing 100 percent of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2025, reducing absolute Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 44 percent by 2030, and reaching net zero emissions by 2040.

In pursuit of these aims, the company is considering installing a microgrid system at its base in Cork, Ireland. J&J hopes to take advantage of the connected services offered by EcoCare to introduce digital twins, which will help it to understand the impact that this would have on its overall electrical distribution system – and what adjustments would need to be made to facilitate it.

The insights provided by Schneider’s Connected Services Hub in Warrington have proven to be essential in supporting J&J’s sustainability agenda. In September 2023, for example, the company received a call from an expert that one of its transformers was experiencing high temperatures.

“I was able to grab an electrician, we surveyed the transformer in question, [and] we diagnosed that it was a true and valid alert,” said Colin Foley, Project Portfolio Manager of J&J. Action was then promptly taken: “Under controlled settings, we were able to switch from one transformer to another in a seamless manner.”

Case study: University of Nottingham

Another key customer of EcoCare is the University of Nottingham. Boasting a student population of around 34,000, it is the fifth largest higher education estate in the UK and, as such, is significantly expensive to maintain.

According to Gavin Scott, Head of Sustainability at the University of Nottingham, around 50 percent of the site is currently underutilised. Being a research-led institution, the university needs to be able to demonstrate that it adheres to sustainability requirements and make informed decisions about energy efficiency, based on the the vast amount of data it generates. 

To facilitate its goal of reaching net zero by 2040, the university has called upon the Warrington Connected Services Hub to support its three-stage process of analysing, optimising, and decarbonising.

Unlike Scott’s team, the research conducted at the university is not limited to working hours: “Our research doesn't operate nine till five, Monday to Friday,” he said. “We run all year round, so being able to utilise the Connected Services Hub as an alarm point has been really useful for us to be able to manage the risks associated with facilities that have aged plants.”

As a data-rich institution, the university runs the risk of experiencing a “data overload”, Scott explained. “You can drown yourself in data that actually won't drive any meaningful output. The real clever [part] is stitching together what drives your ultimate goals, whether that's sustainability, energy reduction, or something else.

“It's the integration of data through the Internet of Things that is going to be key for us moving forward,” he said.

In summary

“We don't leave any customer behind here. Every customer that we've got, whether they're unconnected, whether at the start of their digital journey or advanced, get access to this global network of hubs. The intention is that we [work] with our customers to drive them up this digital maturity ladder,” concluded Haines.

Such an approach recognises that the needs of the manufacturing industry are diverse – there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to sustainability and energy efficiency.

That’s why it’s imperative for manufacturers to harness data insights intelligently and seek bespoke solutions for their needs. Only then will they be able to gain a full understanding of how leveraging digital technologies can accelerate their own net zero journey – and vice versa, how their sustainability goals can drive digitalisation. Only then can the industry enter a new era of data-driven efficiency.

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