Digital and decarbonisation go hand in hand
Raphael Contamin, Director of Equans Digital, gives an initial assessment and discusses the challenges of 2023, nearly 6 months after the creation of the brand.
1. COP 27 once again highlighted the urgent need to decarbonise economic activities. In France, the Government proposed doubling public aid to 10 billion euros to decarbonise the largest industrial companies (around 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in France) in exchange for a 50% reduction in their emissions by 2030. What can digital technology contribute to decarbonisation?
RC: Digital and decarbonisation go hand in hand. The most relevant example is the contribution of digital technology to reducing energy consumption, and therefore the associated emissions. This is what we call energy performance. Take France, for example. In this country, buildings account for 44% of total energy consumption. And today, only 6% of the 2.5 million buildings that make up the French tertiary sector are equipped with an intelligent energy management system called a BMS (Building Management System). Yet the installation of a BMS and its proper use can save 30 to 40% of energy! A BMS also allows much more flexibility, to reduce consumption according to signals on the state of the network, such as the ECOWATT signal published by RTE.
Then let's talk about the industrial sector. Here, for a long time, energy consumption was a secondary issue compared to the performance or reliability of production lines. But with the energy crisis, the costs of supplying energy to a factory now run into millions of euros. The chance of industry, unlike the building sector, is that most industrial sites are already equipped with control systems, which are called supervisory control and command systems (SCADA). These SCADA solutions already have a significant and too often under-exploited data pool: by retrieving this data, analysing trends and correlations through machine learning, we can predict behaviour and dynamically optimise the set points of these systems in order to make significant energy gains without affecting the reliability of the production line. Here again, digital technology can make a significant contribution to decarbonisation.
2. There is a sense of urgency around decarbonisation. How can we go faster?
Raphael Contamin, Director of Equans Digital
There is public funding, but although it is necessary and important, it will not be enough. For me, there are two essential elements to understand in order to accelerate. The first is that we are not facing a technology problem, but a deployment and usage problem. BMS or SCADA technologies, for example, have been around for a long time, they are robust, tried and tested and the return on investment is proven. The challenge today is to deploy them, and this requires a network of integrators.The other challenge is their proper use over time. And here, we need competent operating and maintenance teams. The first obstacle to be removed in order to accelerate is therefore to be able to better train and recruit technicians and engineers in automation.
The second idea is that we need to work more collaboratively between companies in the sector: software editors, integrators, equipment manufacturers, start-ups and large groups. To better communicate and explain to our customers the value of the solutions we deploy, we must do it together, each in his own role, with his own strengths and skills.We need to show the complementarity of our approaches, rather than pretending to do everything in isolation. This is the type of collaborative approach that we are deploying today through several showroom sites, where we invite our clients to discuss their needs, and which we share with industrial partners: for example, the Ville et Territoires Connectés showroom in Lieusaint, the Industry 4.0 showroom in Montargis, or the GO Smart Industry platform near Lyon, on the site made available by the Conseil Régional.
3. Equans Digital is just over 6 months old, how do clients react? What do they need most?
Equans Digital's clients are companies and local authorities. They know their business and their needs. Unlike an individual client, who is looking for an off-the-shelf product, these clients are looking for a solution that meets their own specific needs.
We have two types of clients today. Those who want a global turnkey offer. A construction project, for example, which includes both the technical equipment and the digital part. In this case, we join forces with our colleagues from the HVAC and electrical engineering sectors to offer a complete Equans package. For example, we are currently working on the renovation of the Pleyel Tower (near Paris), where we are providing the BMS solution. I can also mention the ambitious Smart City project that Equans is carrying out for the Angers Loire Métropole region (West of France).
And then there are clients who need a purely digital solution: a BOS (Building Operating System) for tertiary clients, or a telecontrol or digital twin system for gas or river infrastructure operators. In both cases, our customers expect to be reassured about the technical competence of the teams, but also to have local contacts to ensure a long-term link.
Equans Digital's primary strength is the size of its network: 6,000 people, €1 billion in business, and the world leader in our business as a digital solutions integrator. In France, for example, we have 4 national centres of expertise (automation, robotics, BIM, Data & Systems), as well as 40 local offices within the network. Equans Digital's second strength is our ability to master a wide range of technological bricks: from automation to BIM, and up to the higher layers (cybersecurity, interoperability, data science).
Thanks to this, we can start from our client's needs and assemble the right bricks to meet them. This combination of two strengths - our integrator approach and the strength of our network - means that today our order books have never been so full.
4. What was the most emblematic success for Equans Digital in 2022?
There are several. I'll give you three examples that illustrate the diversity of the projects we carry out for our clients.
The first one concerns gigafactories, with the French government's well understood need to repatriate battery production for electric vehicles to France. For this type of project, Equans Digital participates in global offers led by Equans, and provides the digital solutions associated with the technical packages (BMS, BMS, supervision, BIM synthesis). In 2022, we won contracts for ACC and Envision, two gigafactories that will be built in Douai and Douvrin in northern France, with production capacities of 8 to 10 GWh/year starting in 2024, enough to equip 75,000 to 150,000 electric vehicles with batteries. We are also involved in this type of project abroad, particularly in Italy and North America.
The second example is the implementation of a Data Science project with one of our long-standing customers, SOITEC. This is a purely digital solution, the objective of which was to make energy savings by optimising the instructions given to technical equipment (boiler rooms and cooling units). To do this, we used historical data that we collect through our work as an automation specialist, and thanks to machine learning technologies, we were able to achieve gains of 5 to 10% in consumption compared to the past.
Finally, we are proud of several emblematic contracts in the field of audiovisual and unified communication solutions for public players: in France, we have equipped the Ile de France Regional Council: 147 rooms and a hemicycle, and in Australia, the headquarters of the Victorian State Police: 39 levels equipped with audio, video and collaborative communication solutions.
5. Component shortages, cost inflation... how do you deal with these issues affecting the industry today?
One of our advantages is that we are "agnostic" integrators. In a period of equipment shortage, we are able to make proposals when there is a shortage of one piece of equipment in order to give preference to another and be affected as little as possible. Furthermore, from one member of the network to another, we share stocks to serve one or other of the members who is short.
As regards cost inflation, in the same way, our position as an integrator enables us to make proposals to our customers so that they are affected as little as possible: when we know that an item of equipment carries a risk of supply or a significant increase in costs, we know how to offer our customers an alternative that meets their needs.
6. Automation, AI, robotics, what are the market trends for 2023?
The first trend we see is the challenge of interoperability of systems to break down silos and engage in a logic of hypervision. In the world of commercial buildings, this is known as Smart Building, or BOS (Building Operating System), which enables use-cases combining data from different systems: building management systems, access control, BIM site models, etc. In the industrial world, we talk about Industry 4.0 with, for example, the acceleration of MES (Manufacturing Execution System) approaches, to control the various parameters of a production line in a global manner (quality, traceability). And in the world of cities and territories, we call this the smart city, or hypervisors. We have a solution called OC vision which is a global hypervisor to address all the security issues of a city.
The second striking trend is the convergence we are seeing between OT (Operational Technologies) and IT (Information Technologies). Until now, IT was managed by the IT departments and OT by the operators. These two worlds are coming together in industry, but also in the service sector and local authorities. Operational systems are becoming more and more connected and need to interact with IT for data exploitation. These two trends: interoperability and IT-OT convergence, generate an increased need for vigilance with regard to cyber security issues. Today, for all Equans projects, we have a cyber visa procedure to ensure that the projects meet our clients' cyber requirements. We are trying to increase the skills of all Equans teams in relation to these issues, with the support of Equans Digital's central centres of expertise.
7. What profiles does Equans Digital need to meet these challenges?
The beauty of Equans Digital's business is its diversity. In our projects, we have our feet in the technical facilities and our head in the cloud! A concrete project to illustrate this: our client SOKOA, which manufactures office furniture in the Pays- Basque (France) and to whom we supplied a robotic solution associated with a heterogeneous palletisation algorithm. Heterogeneous palletising is a barbarian word for pallet Tetris. Thanks to this, our robots are able to take packages of very different sizes and weights and build coherent pallets, minimising wasted space while respecting weight and balance constraints.
To do this, we have used electrical and mechanical profiles to design the islands and make the wiring, automation and robotics profiles to design the line and configure the systems, and finally, developers and AI specialists to develop the specific algorithm capable of intelligently palletising the packages. This type of intelligent solution is also a response to the challenges of reducing CO2 emissions for our manufacturers: today, 30% of trucks transport empty space, which is why optimising the constitution of pallets by reducing the empty space transported is both an immediate response to the challenges of production performance and a reduction in the overall carbon footprint (including for carriers).
8. How do you recruit and train these profiles?
We have many partnerships with training schools, and we make extensive use of the work-study format to recruit and integrate new talent: we have an average of about 10% work-study students in the Equans Digital network. Our showrooms (Lieusaint, Montargis, Lyon) are a good way to maintain the link with the educational system: we regularly welcome high school and college students to show them our business. In addition, we have also set up our own internal training programmes through the Equans Digital Academy. In the BIM professions, we train either software enthusiasts who are taught about the world of construction, or people from the construction industry who have an IT background.
We also have a training centre in Bouguenais, in the west of France, for the job of test manager - the people who commission the installations after checking them. In this training centre, we use an escape game in a mixed digital and physical format to train future test managers! A method that is both fun and pragmatic and that is now bearing fruit.