The future of the water sector is inevitably linked to digital technology. Companies search for the best way to be up-to-date and adapt their services to this new scenario, and Schneider Electric is the company of choice to work with.
Iván Tallón, End User Strategic Sales Manager of Industry Business at this company tells us about the keys to a transformation that is changing the way we work with water resources.
Question: First, we would like to know the main milestones in your career path in relation to water, as well as your role in your current position.
Answer: I started to work for Schneider Electric more than 13 years ago, and throughout my career I have held different positions in the company, in the areas of sales, product marketing, as responsible for the variable speed line of products, or as business developer in the area of automation.
My previous position was Key Account Manager for the water segment for five years, where I was involved in many international projects with our major clients, so I know the sector well.
Now I work as End User Sales Manager in Spain for the strategic segments in the industry division, namely: Water, Food & Beverage, Automotive, and Mine Minerals and Metals.
The digital transformation in the water sector is a reality, and at Schneider we see it every day with our clients
Q: What do you think are the main challenges ahead for the water sector in Spain?
A: In Spain, the water sector has excellent companies and professionals, and has experienced significant international growth, but there is still work to be done. The challenges in the sector have to do with the digitalisation of companies and their services, and looking for mechanisms to undertake such modernisation.
On one hand, the evolution of technology and business models comes hand in hand with a need to increase operational efficiency and save costs, and to improve the sustainability of resource use. But digitalisation is also something natural around us: it concerns the way we relate to others, the way we shop and complete formalities, and also the way we work. The digital transformation in the water sector is a reality, and at Schneider we see it every day with our clients. There are tools in the market for efficient data management, for remote data access and application of data to predictive analysis, maintenance management, leakage detection or process optimisation, to mention a few. The outstanding task in many cases, in my view, is integrating new and existing tools into a modernisation plan based on clear and measurable objectives, that includes as well the human factor and the culture shift required in the company.
Often the lack of resources to carry out the required upgrades is a serious drawback, so another challenge is to find formulas to mobilise capital that can be invested in modernising the sector. That is why at Schneider we vouch for performance based contracts, that have shown to be very useful in countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom. The savings realised with the contract itself, regarding energy or non revenue water, pay for any investments required.
Q: What is the position and the weight of Spain within Schneider's water business globally?
A: Spain plays a key role in Schneider Electric's water business: many of our international clients are Spanish companies who are leaders in desalination, water treatment and waste water treatment: they buy from us in Spain but implement their projects all over the globe, but especially in Latin America, north of Africa, Middle East and Southeast Asia. That is, concerning domestic business and exports, Spain is one of the ten countries with a larger sales volume in the water business for Schneider Electric; it is only behind the United States, China, France, Australia, Canada and Saudi Arabia.
If we only consider the domestic business, in 2018 Spain was number 14 in our global sales ranking out of 109 countries where we sold technology for the water sector. At the European level, Spain was the fifth country in the sales ranking, after Belgium, the United Kingdom, Italy and France. However, sales in Spain increased by 25% compared to 2017, because the domestic business in Spain is recovering: we are seeing signs of improvement.
Spain also occupies an important strategic position in the water business: a Spanish company, ACCIONA, is one of Schneider Electric's top five strategic accounts in the water business. In 2018, our business with ACCIONA doubled, partly because the account not only involves their water business, but also construction, industrial, and services business areas. In 2018 ACCIONA was our second largest client worldwide, only surpassed by Veolia.
The main area of growth is the digitalisation of companies based on the EcoStruxture platform, which comprises three levels
Q: What is Schneider Electric's growth strategy in Spain with regard to water?
A: Given that digital transformation processes are a reality in the industrial world, especially in the water sector, the main area of growth is the digitalisation of companies based on the EcoStruxture platform, which comprises three levels: from connected products (electrical panels, variable speed drives, transformers, instruments, etc.), to a second level known as 'Edge Control' that performs local control and supervision in real time with the data collected at the first level, and a third level that involves data analysis and services to turn into knowledge the data handled at the two prior levels. This data treatment can be done locally on the premises, or in the cloud, depending on reliability and costs; Schneider is focusing more on this level, with artificial intelligence solutions and digital services for our clients. For example, our remote analysis centre monitors assets in the plant to detect any anomalies and even to prevent them, in order to help our clients operate more efficiently.
Q: Within this strategy, what is the role of digitalisation? What steps are being taken in Spain to encourage digitalisation and integrate it in the water sector?
A: As we mentioned earlier, at Schneider Electric we are focusing on the digital transformation of our clients, working with them as strategic technological partners in these processes, with the purpose of helping them improve efficiencies and maximise the return on capital.
Last year, Schneider purchased 60% of the industrial software company AVEVA, in order to expand its digital offering. AVEVA is a world leader in design and engineering solutions and in smart information management during the life cycle of assets, and also during operations. Our philosophy includes the concept of Digital Twin.
According to the publication Mechanical Engineering, between 50% and 80% of a project's time is used to move and organise data. With our digital platforms, data is only entered once and any inconsistencies are detected automatically with multidisciplinary modelling tools. Several studies have found that on average, 14.2% of the total construction cost of an industrial plant is due to errors. AVEVA solutions allow detecting and correcting those errors in early phases of the project; that would mean, if we consider a total construction cost of 1 billion euros, saving 142 million euros.
Regarding urban water management, our control software is implemented in several Spanish cities
During the construction of new plants, and this applies more to projects outside of Spain, this type of software ensures complete traceability of any actions taken and the respective responsibilities, since often several different global companies take part in project implementation. Thus, AVEVA allows consistent management of any type of project, regardless of the complexity.
At Schneider we also rely on our strategic partnerships and our network of 22,000 partners all over the world to create digital solutions for specific applications, using our EcoStruxure architecture.
In Spain we are carrying out projects with our clients to show the benefits of digitalisation for the operation and optimisation of pumping stations, for management and for asset maintenance.
Q: What are the most important clients and projects for Schneider Electric España in the area of urban water management?
A: As I mentioned, worldwide our second largest client in terms of sales is ACCIONA, although much of the business involves exports for their projects in Latin America, north of Africa, Middle East and Asia-Pacific. In the area of urban water management, we have recently implemented a project with ACCIONA Agua involving telemetry in the Asunción water network (Paraguay); this project is a candidate for a Global Water Award as Smart Water Project of the Year. We have also worked with them on the control software and the electrical equipment for the St. John waste water treatment plant in Canada.
We are also doing a lot of business with other Spanish companies such as Aqualia, Tedagua, Inima, Sacyr and Abengoa, involving exports for desalination plants, drinking water and waste water treatment plants internationally.
In Spain, our control software technology (SCADA) has been implemented in many Spanish cities, helping water companies, whether they public, private or public-private, to manage water supply and sanitation efficiently. This is the case of Agbar-Suez in Barcelona, Emuasa in Murcia, the Bilbao Water Consortium or EMASESA in Seville, to give some examples.
Q: Finally, we would to know about the innovation projects Schneider Electric España is participating in.
A: We have two cases that are particularly worth noting: one is the development of a global control centre with ACCIONA, where we supply the technology that allows bringing together the data from several plants to optimise their performance. This project, known as CECOA, has been recently presented by ACCIONA Agua at the SIGA trade show. We are working on it with ACCIONA and Microsoft to develop applications that will enable ACCIONA to analyse problems in its plants remotely and quickly; they will be able to adjust operations to increase output, reduce energy consumption, reduce reagent consumption and improve decision making during daily plant operations.
The other case is the Smart Pumping project with Suez and other clients in Spain, where we optimise the performance of pumping stations through a digital service that monitors, analyses and recommends the optimum operation parameters for this energy intensive equipment.
Finally, this year we are honoured to organise in Barcelona the Global Innovation Summit of Schneider Electric. On October 2nd and 3rd we will show our clients from all over the world the latest innovations and technologies for energy management and automation, and we will have a high level conference programme to explore the most significant issues in our industry.