Industry 1, 2, 3, 4… and 5.0
Future of industry
08 November 2023
10 MIN
banner-industrie-5-0

Nexans aligns its data with business operations

A shift is under way. Many countries, including the USA and France, are turning away from the factory-free economy – the dominant model of the past last 30 years – to rediscover the advantages of manufacturing at home. This shift creates a unique opportunity to promote the development of new-generation plants, reflecting new economic, social and environmental challenges. Local for local has always been the watchword at Nexans, which is seizing this opportunity to take a new step forward in its development. By integrating its rigorous management model with its international production base, the company will be in industry 4.0 mode by 2026.

When we talk about the digital revolution, we tend to think first of the glut of the information inundating our lives, every day of every week, announcing a new revolutionary smartphone, a new multi-cooker or the latest mind-boggling breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI). It’s a subject that has only recently come to the fore in the business world, with the fierce debate around the impact of AI on business activities and the rapid automation expected in many areas, from programming to accounting, medicine and law.

Paradoxically, industry has attracted far less interest as a subject of discussion. And yet it is a subject of key importance, not only in terms of jobs, innovation and value creation, but also in terms of sovereignty. The Covid-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for European countries, which became aware of the scale of their economic and strategic dependence, in the light of the tensions between China and the United States. Factories have a key role to play in adapting our economies to the new technological order.

industrie-reinvente

How industry is reinventing itself with industry 4.0

This comes as no surprise, since changes in the workshops have always been associated with breakthroughs in technology, continuing a cycle that began with two industrial revolutions. The steam engine and the first factories were followed by the arrival of electricity, machine tools and mass production, and then – in the 1950s – by electronics, automation through programming, numerical control machinery, industrial robots and the first supervisory software packages.

The fourth revolution, currently unfolding, directly continues the ongoing process of computerization, while taking it to a whole new level. The first step is to establish a new energy base, moving away from the fossil fuels that powered the previous three revolutions. The second step is to maximize the use of a key new resource – corporate data – by building on a powerful high-tech mix that has now reached maturity: very high-speed infrastructure (fiber for fixed connections and 5G for mobile), combined with data hosting and mass processing (Cloud, Big Data, AI), decentralized intelligence and smart objects (IoT) and new forms of human-machine interaction (mixed reality, digital twinning, avatars).

This avalanche of innovations is paving the way for a complete rethink of the way companies work, with particular emphasis on all the processes involved in production. For many industrial powers, this is now a priority. It is no coincidence that Germany was the first to launch an Industry 4.0 plan in 2011, with an eye to maintaining the excellence of its industrial base. Pursuing the same objective, China is investing in high value-added factories in order to retain its industrial might and address a growing labor shortage. France adopted a similar strategy in 2015, with its Alliance for the Industry of the Future, an association of 32,000 companies meeting every year at the Global Industry trade show. This year, Nexans was in the spotlight claiming two Golden Tech awards in the Designer and Maker categories at the 2023 event, held last March in Lyon.

Nexans 4.0 on course for 2025

These goals are part of a new commitment involving everybody at Nexans. The Group is moving towards the global digital integration of all areas of the company and its ecosystem in order to simplify processes, improve performance and response, boost productivity and safety, limit unnecessary operations, as well as to anticipate and plan for events (predictive maintenance, inventory management, customer satisfaction, etc.).

nexans-horizon-2025

In a recent survey of French business, 98% of the companies interviewed said that they have already planned or deployed initiatives relating to Industry 4.0 (7th edition of the Wavestone barometer on Industry 4.0, conducted in partnership with Bpifrance and France Industrie).

The main motivations cited are industrial performance (for 30% of respondents) and data control (27%). Note that ecological impact and energy performance were in third place this year (15%).

The Nexans Group took the first step towards change in late 2020, when it teamed up with Schneider Electric, a company with proven experience in transforming its own industrial base. The process initiated by Schneider Electric places the emphasis on reliability, productivity, improved availability through predictive maintenance, energy efficiency and protection against cyber-attacks. The first step in the partnership involved major investments at pilot sites in Autun, France and Grimsås, Sweden. The process will be deployed at eight more sites by the end of 2023, with the aim of upgrading all 45 Group plants on four continents by late 2025, at a pace of between 12 and 15 sites every year.

10

Nexans plants upgraded
by the end of 2023

45

Nexans plants upgraded
by late 2025

12 to 15

Nexans plants upgraded
pe year

These fundamental changes involve the mobilization of Group data: the raw material of this new industrial revolution. Although the proportion of data used by the Group rose from 5% to 10% between 2019 and 2023, the aim is to reach 70% by 2026.

Vincent Dessale

We are approaching the Group’s digital transformation on two levels, first by integrating new technologies into our operations, and second by creating a collaborative environment.

Vincent Dessale

Chief operating officer, Nexans

This approach connects production tools using IoT and AI resources, while allowing employees to take back control through dashboards, decision-support indicators, and quality and safety monitoring. It also supports efforts to cut response time and time to market.

Reasons for a revolution: what actually changes in the field

First, we will see changes in the way we work every day. Because the transformation is not just about technology, even though connected machines, AI-powered robots are becoming an increasingly common site in factories, along with self-driving forklift trucks roving the aisles of the logistics centers ​​by day and by night. However, the most spectacular changes concern human workers, with workshops packed full of screens, tablets and connected goggles.

This is a sensitive subject, since the success of the transformation will depend on how well people are able to work alongside machines. This is precisely the aim of Industry 5.0, as it is sometimes called. The objective is to expand and strengthen the digital transformation by supporting better collaboration between people and machines, while ensuring that creativity and well-being are not overlooked.

​​This aspect is taken into account from the outset in the Nexans project:

  • Real-time dashboards monitor the smooth running of production lines, currently in each plant and soon across the Group’s entire global industrial base. Real-time data supervision boosts industrial performance and quality control, while also reducing the consumption of energy and raw materials, and cutting energy costs by 15%.

Predictive maintenance

Discover with Chao Li, Digital Development Engineer, and Tobias Karlsson, Predictive Maintenance Operator in Grimsås how predictive maintenance has been put in place in our Swedish factory. The objective is to monitor the main production indicators such as temperature, pressure, traction, to detect evolution on the trends of these parameters.

We can now pick up on many errors before they occur. It’s a bit like being able to see into the future with all the data collected.

Tobias Karlsson

Predictive maintenance operator at Nexans in Grimsås, Sweden

  • A corporate social network gives operators access to video modules and tutorials, along with a chat forum. The forum is invaluable for discussing best practices and finding solution fast, since users are able to post questions directly for the online community. It is also a way to keep track of past actions, contributing to the sharing of information between operators, staff and management and the smooth running of day-to-day operations, while also helping workers to be more self-reliant.

Operator mobility

This digital transformation program supports our operators and make their life easier facilitating access to all needed documents and supporting remote production.

Discover with Chao Li, Digital Development Engineer, and Mylène Iller, Production Operator in Autun (France), how operators’ lives is made easier.

When we get back from vacation, for example, all we have to do is look at the news feed to find out what’s been happening while we’ve been away, on our line and on the site in general.

Mylène Iller

Production operator at Nexans in Autun, France

  • Connected goggles are used to reduce workplace stress, establishing a direct line between experts and operators at any time, to manage sensitive production phases or urgent production problems, through the use of augmented reality.

General program introduction

Lionel Fomperie, Nexans Group Industrial Strategy Director and Thomas Wagner, Nexans IS Performance Director give a general program overview and explain how Operations are working together with IT/OT to generate IT/OT and Cybersecurity platforms.

At this key stage in the process, the aim is for digitization to free operators from repetitive work, so that they can focus on tasks with higher added value. The digital transformation will also play a role in increasing the appeal of our business for the younger, digital-native generation, while creating opportunities for us to enrich job profiles, reduce the time spent on machines, and enhance skills through appropriate training programs.

To harness its full power, this new approach to managing the production base must be integrated with the company’s strategic objectives. Taking this process as far as possible, Nexans is making sure that its industry 4.0 plan is consistent with the E3 management model, underpinning the transformation of the group by supporting the goals of economic performance, environmental virtue and employee commitment.

Focus on 3 use cases

Lionel Fomperie, Group Industrial Strategy Director, Chao Li, Digital Development Engineer and Olivier Ameline, Nexans Excellence Way Director drive us through three use cases: Unified Operation Cockpit (UOC), MES Performance (Manufacturing Execution System) and SQDCE Digital board: S for Safety, Q for Quality, D for Delay, C for Cost & E for Environment.

Nexans’ copper odyssey
Future of industry
31 October 2023
4 MIN
banniere-cuivre

Turning resource scarcity into competitive advantage

Copper, the first metal worked by man at the dawn of the Neolithic revolution and at the heart of the second industrial energy revolution at the beginning of the 20th century, is today one of the pillars of the ongoing energy transition. Boosted by the widespread use of electric vehicles, the proliferation of wind farm projects, the modernisation of electricity grids, the renovation of buildings and investment in the factories of the future, copper is everywhere. But with resources becoming increasingly scarce, geopolitical tensions and the need to protect the planet, the electrical cable industry is having to reinvent itself around new sustainable business models. Nexans is at the forefront of this transformation thanks to its history, its early investment in the field and its strategic vision of a model combining responsibility and performance.

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Copper, from predicted shortage to future laboratory for the circular economy

The electrical cable industry, which has already undergone many transformations in its long history, is facing a new challenge. The proliferation of electrification projects required by the energy transition is leading to an explosion in demand for electricity, and therefore an expected increase in global copper consumption, which is expected to reach 39 million tonnes in 2030 (compared with 13 million in 1995 and 29 million in 2020). At the same time, we must cope with the predicted scarcity of mining resources, limited by an annual production of 24 million tonnes over the next 5 years.

The price of copper doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic providing a foretaste of the pressure that awaits cable producers. This equation depends on access to an increasingly disputed resource, and on a price adjustment that weighs heavily on their business models, given that copper can account for up to 70% of the cost of cables.

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Although the reuse of copper scrap is a long-standing practice in the industry – Nexans has been doing it for nearly 40 years – it has become imperative for the entire industry to get involved. However, the 9 million tonnes of copper currently produced from recycling will not be enough to make up for the production shortfall and satisfy the increase in demand.

A difficult transition lies ahead, after almost a century of an economy driven by waste and disposability. We have now entered the age of recycling, the age of the circular economy. This shift implies a complete rethink of all the company’s activities, from upstream to downstream, from design to distribution, including the key production stages.

We are in fact at the start of a movement that is set to accelerate, because even though less than a third of manufacturers have begun transforming their value chains beyond the core plants, more than 80% of French companies have already worked on circular business models (INEC survey, “Pivoter vers une industrie circulaire”, Dunod, 2022).

Christopher Guérin

I believe in inventing a new business management model, in which the circular economy will be replaced by circular performance. In other words, an ethical and circular model, but not one that is diminishing.

Christopher Guérin

Nexans CEO, (« POUR ALLER DANS LE BON SENS », LE CHERCHE MIDI, 2023)

Pivoting towards the circular economy to combine sustainability and profitability

Recycling and better control of supplies are no longer enough to define a strategy that meets the challenges. Switching from a linear economy to a circular economy implies a profound change in all the company’s business lines, so that the change of model becomes virtuous.

A good example of the holistic approach needed to implement a profitable circular strategy is the new range of low-carbon distribution network cables that Nexans has just launched in France. By considering each stage of the value chain and the entire life cycle of a cable, it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from low and medium voltage cables by 35% to 50%, depending on the product. For example, in addition to using copper, this means using low-carbon aluminium and recycled plastics and guaranteeing the use of renewable or low-carbon energies in cable production.

Christophe Allain, Nexans’ Global Portfolio Director Non-Ferrous Metals, points out that to achieve such a result, all business lines must be involved: “This unique offer illustrates our teams’ commitment to sustainable development, from our worldwide Ampacity R&D centre in Lyon to our product plants, including our marketing and purchasing teams and, of course, our partner suppliers.”

cuivre-circulaire-2

This is an essential offering at a time when Nexans’ customers are themselves pivoting towards a sustainable economy. Such is the case with Schneider, which is a pioneer in this area by putting circularity and, more broadly, the environment at the heart of a strategy rolled out through a number of programmes: eco-design, use of higher-quality materials, more modular, connected and repairable products, the emergence of “Energy as a Service” models, decarbonisation of value chains, waste-free production plants and leasing offers.

Finally, over and above the economic benefits and the renewed confidence of key customers, the move towards a circular economy is also an asset for the re-engagement of the company’s teams. Because the more the change is real and based on concrete objectives and measured results, the more the teams will find their commitment meaningful and motivating.

Exploiting “urban mines” to turn scarce resources into competitive advantages

Nexans, the world’s leading manufacturer of vertically integrated cables, has an advantage that gives it direct access to copper cathodes in mines. For the Group, this means controlling its supplies while maintaining the lead it gained many years ago through the integration of its own metallurgy business: the only remaining copper smelter in France – Lens- two in South America – Chile and Peru- and a mega-smelter in Montreal.

cuivre-mines-urbaines

This strategy alone is not enough today. We need to supplement these sources of supply by significantly stepping up our recycling efforts. “For our electrical cable production activity, we use up to 6% and 14% recycled copper, depending on our production sites in Lens and Montreal”, says Franck Ruelle, Recycling Services Manager at Nexans, and Philippe Demarez, Director of the Lens site, “and this proportion will only increase in the future.”

Nexans is committed to using urban mines to transform our industry and enter the circular economy. It is essential to improve copper and aluminium recovery from electrical networks in the real “urban mines” that are our cities and our infrastructures, where the level of collection can be improved. To achieve this, the Group has been working since 2008 with RecyCâbles, a joint venture between Nexans and SUEZ. Over the course of 2022, 14,000 tonnes of used cables were processed at the Group’s plants. In the future, this collaboration could be extended to other recycling players to develop a circular chain specific to the cable industry. For example, telco operator Orange’s historic lines will technically be phased out in 2030. It will therefore be essential to ensure the recovery of this entire copper network, so that it can be recycled and reused. There are other potential initiatives with scrap merchants and waste collection centres, which are essential parts of the jigsaw and therefore at the heart of the circular economy.

cuivre-valeurs

In this way, controlling the end-to-end value chain also makes it possible to leverage several parameters which, in addition to lead times and cost prices, can become genuine guarantees of quality and environmental commitments to which Nexans’ customers and partners are now very sensitive.

This also involves the long-term management of supply contracts, such as the one just signed for five years with the Polish group KGHM for the supply of copper cathodes, which now also factors in a lower level of carbon emissions by using rail transport between Poland and France. This approach goes hand-in-hand with joint membership of the Copper Mark to promote responsible copper production worldwide. As a result of this policy, the Lens and Montreal sites were awarded this same label for responsible copper production in August 2023.

But the fact remains that for our entire economy to switch to this new model, pioneers must lead the way by demonstrating the benefits for the planet as well as the advantages for new sustainable growth. If copper is often cited as an example of a well-managed circular economy, then the energy cable industry is at the forefront of a “Green deal” that the European Union has begun to roll out since 2019, with ambitious targets for 2030 on the way to carbon neutrality for EU countries by 2050.

Circular plastic: a resources-focus approach
Future of industry
03 November 2022
circular plastic

Plastic is not good for the environment: everyone knows it and everyone makes efforts to avoid it, or at least to sort it better. However, it is still essential in many sectors. Indeed, it remains very important in the design of cables because of its exceptional properties: mechanical, dielectrical, processability, durability…

The problem lies in the poorly managed and uncontrolled plastic waste streams that endanger ecosystems around the world:

  • Over 460 million tons of plastics were produced in 2019,
  • Up to 50% of plastic waste was sent to landfill,
  • Despite current initiatives and efforts, the amount of plastics in the oceans has been estimated to be around 75-199 million tons. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, by 2050 and without action, there will be as much plastic as fish in the sea (1kg for 1kg).

To face the growing volume of plastic produced, used and dumped, industries have to evolve to a fully circular model in which end-of-life plastic products are not discarded but transformed to create value. Innovation, regulation and international collaboration are needed to enable this transition.

In addition to resource management and pollution issues, plastic materials have an impact on greenhouse gases. A kg of polyethylene produced in Europe for plastic manufacturing has a carbon footprint of roughly 1.8 kg of CO2 equivalent.

Plastic material: versatile and unavoidable

Industrial-scale plastics production began in earnest in the 1940s and rapidly increased in the 1950s. More than 8 billion tons of plastics have been produced worldwide since 1950, making it a widely used manufactured material (Geyer et al., 2017).

Plastics offer various benefits such as a high strength-to-weight ratio, and the ability to tailor their physical properties to be hard or soft as needed. This versatility and durability, combined with the low cost of plastic production, is the major reason why plastics are currently used in almost every sector.

A necessary transition to circular plastic

Today, almost all plastic is derived from materials made from fossil energy (primarily oil and gas). This causes several problems:

According to OECD, “Plastic pollution is growing relentlessly as waste management and recycling fall short”. Indeed, it is estimated that only 9% of plastic waste is recycled, and 22% is mismanaged. Due to the durability and strength of the material, plastic waste remains in the environment and takes decades or even centuries to decompose naturally. It involves the loss of biodiversity and alteration of ecosystems (MacLeod et al., 2021).

Hopefully, a transition of plastic materials is possible:

  • Recycling: although recycling is currently the simplest and most widely used solution to transform plastic waste into new products, efforts can be made in terms of sorting and separation. Among all the recycling routes, we differentiate: the simple reuse (direct wastes reuse within the manufacturing processes for example), the mechanical recycling (crushing/powderization after a sorting/separation for example) and the chemical one (with different routes: dissolution, depolymerization or conversion). These technologies make possible to approach the recycling of the wide family of plastics with different levels of complexity and quality.
chemical recycling technologies infographic
© Cefic – Infographic showing how chemical recycling technologies can help to move from a linear plastic economy to a circular one.
  • Bioplastics: Plastics that are biosourced and/or biodegradable can enhance circularity and minimize carbon dioxide emissions caused by the use of conventional fossil raw materials. These bio-materials could be either classical plastics made from bio feedstocks (polyethylene from sugar cane for example) or bio-materials directly found in nature (starch, bio-based plasticizers…).
  • Eco-design: The principle of eco-design is about taking into account the entire life cycle of the product, from the materials used to its recovery and recycling and to take this into account at early stages, i.e. during the material conception. Meaning for example the use of recycled or biobased materials, increase the product lifetimes, select the materials to facilitate the recycling, decrease the weight of plastics used…

Nexans and circular plastics

The major challenge of industrial activity is to drastically limit the impact on the environment. There are three main issues that are interconnected:

  • the impact on greenhouse gases and the climate,
  • the impact on resources, particularly copper and aluminum as well as plastic materials,
  • the impact on biodiversity, which requires the substitution of certain additives (e.g. REACH substances) and the control of the entire life cycle in order to limit and eliminate pollution.

Environmental challenges are at the center of Nexans cable solutions development. We commit to reduce the environmental footprint of our cables thanks to the selection of materials. More than ever, Nexans aims to invent innovative materials that combine eco-design, performance, durability and recyclability.

Extend the use of recycled materials

The incorporation of recycled materials in new products is a challenge for all industries. Nexans has launched a company-wide initiative to use up to 30-60 % recycled plastics in different cable families across the electrification chain.

Recover our wastes

Nexans works to improve the recycling of end-of-life cables and offers to collect customers’ wastes through Nexans Recycling Services. Moreover, Nexans has an objective to recycle 100% of its production wastes by 2030, with a circular economy dynamic. Plastic wastes sorting and valorization are now at the center of several R&D projects to answer all the blocking points (e.g. legacy additives, plastic mix separation, crosslinked polymers recycling…).

Eco-design of our cables

The current valorization efforts of existing end-of-life cables highlight substantive problems linked to their complex designs or to their various components. New products are now created with a strong will of eco-design including:

  • Limit and replace the use of hazardous substances,
  • Development of plastic materials that are more easily recycled,
  • Simplification of cable designs,
  • Improvement of the cable lifetimes.

Innovation will be key to the transition from a linear to a circular model for plastics materials. It requires the development of specific technologies, but will also have to include supply chain and business model components that will be only possible through ecosystems.