French manufacturers are transforming their production sites to create “industry 4.0” plants. They are also switching toward cleaner energy sources and investing in green hydrogen, for example.
At the Renault plant in Douai, northern France, batteries for the all-electric Mégane E Tech are assembled by robots. This is just one example of many. Last year, French manufacturers installed almost 4,400 robots in their plants, 13% more than in 2020 according to industry association Evolis Symop. As a result, France has risen from 10th to 8th worldwide in terms of machines sold. La French Fab will be at the Hannover Fair in Germany from Monday, May 30 to Tuesday, June 2 to tout the virtues of France’s cutting-edge industrial ecosystem. This major showcase of technological innovation will focus this year on plant digitization and decarbonization.
Manufacturers worldwide are investing heavily to convert to Industry 4.0, a concept that encompasses robotization, 3D printing, collection and analysis of data using AI, etc. The industrial automation market is worth around €150 billion per year globally. According to a survey by Bpifrance Le Lab, 70% of French manufacturers say that modernizing their production system is “an important goal, or indeed a priority”.
Under the France 2030 investment plan, €800 million will be allocated to automation, and €400 million to plant modernization. Several SMEs are leading the way, such as aeronautics supplier JPB Système, which installed sensors to create a connected production line, resulting in a “10 to 15%” increase in productivity. Regarding French digital leader Dassault Systèmes, it provides manufacturers with a “digital twin” of their plants, which is used to prevent failures and simulate the insertion of a new machine into the production chain.
Manufacturing industry must also take steps to reduce its carbon footprint to help meet the targets set out in the Paris agreement, the purpose of which is to limit global warming to +2°C. Carbon-free hydrogen is one of the preferred options for replacing fossil energy sources (coal, oil, and gas). By 2030, the French government plans to invest €7 billion in this promising technology. The war in Ukraine is a game-changer: for the first time ever, “green” hydrogen, which is produced by a water electrolysis process powered by renewable energy, is less expensive than the “gray” hydrogen obtained from fossil fuels.
Multinational firm Air Liquide is already planning to build a 200-megawatt electrolyser in Port-Jérôme-sur-Seine, Normandy, by 2025 – a world record for green hydrogen. Another project named Genvia is being developed by the CEA research center and manufacturing group Schlumberger. The joint-venture is building a high-temperature electrolyser that operates at around 800°C. The yield is expected to be 15 to 30% greater than that of existing models. In the mobility sector, the Alps-based startup Atawey is installing charging stations for vehicles powered by carbon-free hydrogen. It will be part of the Business France delegation representing French industry at the Hannover Fair.
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