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CompanyWeek recently spoke with Barry Powell at Siemens Smart Infrastructure USA. Powell leads the Electrical Products business line, with responsibilities that include overseeing eight factories within North America. Connect with Barry on LinkedIn.
CompanyWeek: Siemens has been a steady voice in advocating for an improved and advanced U.S. manufacturing ecosystem for some time. It must be gratifying for you and the company to see a shift in national mindset — from simply maintaining what we already have to planning for and investing in the U.S. infrastructure of the future?
Barry Powell: Yes, it is. The supply chain crisis and semiconductor shortage has awakened the need for a much stronger manufacturing base for the U.S. to support emerging infrastructure needs associated with the electrification of transportation, renewable energy generation, and smart buildings.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has opened the door to opportunities and funding for some of these much-needed infrastructure improvements, across a variety of industries. It is now the mission of Siemens and other industry leaders to create next generation manufacturing jobs in America to produce the infrastructure needs for future generations.
CW: Remind us why it’s essential for major companies like Siemens to invest in manufacturing that supports U.S. infrastructure?
BP: The global pandemic hammered home the need for companies like Siemens to invest in local manufacturing to support our nation’s infrastructure. Early in the pandemic, our Smart Infrastructure U.S. team was able to engineer, manufacture, and ship critical electrical power and HVAC equipment to a mobile COVID hospital within 48 hours. That gave our entire team a strong sense of purpose during a very difficult time.
The resulting supply chain disruption really opened our eyes to the importance of ‘glocalization’ for global entities like Siemens. This concept refers to bringing innovative ideas (generated anywhere globally) to life for U.S. customers through U.S. manufacturing facilities and local/regional (vs. global) supply chains and delivering them to U.S. customers.
This approach has helped our Electrical Products team to ramp up faster than our competition the past 24 months to meet the growing demand for electrical infrastructure from data centers, home office construction, and reshoring of manufacturing in this country. Further, it supports U.S. jobs and strengthens our industrial base. With an increasing focus on Made in America and an increase of inward focus by China, we see this trend continuing the next several years.
CW: How would you describe the current state of the country’s electrical power infrastructure?
BP: The nation’s electrical grid is fragile and quite dated, with some elements several decades old. Ice storms in Texas, wildfires in California, and hurricanes have shown that we need to improve the resiliency of our power infrastructure.
The good news is that recent world events and economic challenges at home have driven the urgency for us, as a nation, to focus on energy self-reliance and a hardened electrical grid. We understand the need to be proactive and invest more in our country’s electrical infrastructure, to meet growing energy demands, and ensure an uninterrupted supply.
We need to get more creative in how we go about addressing these needs — incorporating distributed energy sources that use solar, wind, and hydroelectricity, for instance. These green energy sources can help lessen the strain on traditional electric utilities and contribute to a more constant, cost-effective energy supply. Further, digitalization and automation will play key roles in modernizing our electrical infrastructure utilizing these distributed energy sources.
CW: Siemens is well positioned to fuel the development of EV infrastructure. Can you provide a high-level view of where we’re at? One narrative is that infrastructure is the main barrier to accelerated adoption of EVs — for example the lack of over-the-road charging infrastructure. How much of a catalyst can Siemens be in accelerating adoption?
BP: The use of electric vehicles is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years — especially as gasoline and diesel prices continue to climb. EV adoption is gaining ground on both the residential and commercial / industrial side, with organizations like Amazon and FedEx looking to increase their fleet of electric delivery vehicles in order to decrease their carbon emissions. Recent estimates predict that new passenger EVs will grow from four percent to 45 percent by 2035, which is huge!
An increased prevalence of EVs will help drive over-the-road charging infrastructure — which is already more commonly seen throughout Europe. We will get there in the U.S. over the next several years — and Siemens will play a role in developing that infrastructure.
We will collaborate with strong partners in that ecosystem. This collaboration will span the full spectrum of electrical transportation charging/electrical infrastructure. At one extreme, we will work with partners like Ford where we are developing several hundred thousand individual chargers for the F-150 Lightning. At the other extreme, we will develop full charging depot solutions for fleets of vehicles. This will include solutions such as the sustainable, modular, scalable EV charging concept developed with Nexii Building Solutions for new or existing parking lots/building structures.
Siemens has committed to building more than a million EV chargers for the U.S. over the next four years. We recently expanded the footprint of our Wendell, N.C., facility and are on the brink of announcing yet another new EV charging manufacturing hub in the U.S. This will lead to more highly skilled jobs in the EV industry — including EV infrastructure manufacturing. We will continue to partner with several community colleges and universities across the country on apprenticeship and training programs to ensure the next generation has the skills needed to build and maintain the infrastructure to support these vehicles.
CW: Siemens recently announced a $10 million expansion of the electrical infrastructure manufacturing hub in Grand Prairie, Texas. Would you describe the operations at this facility and the goals of this expansion?
BP: This plant manufactures circuit breakers and equipment that supports essential power infrastructure in data centers, industrial sites, and healthcare facilities. The facility already measures over 200,000 square feet, and the significant expansion will increase production capacity and accommodate a new paint line with electric infrared drying. This drying technology replaces a traditional natural gas system, reducing the carbon footprint of the entire facility by 90 percent. This aligns nicely with Siemens’ commitment to achieving globally a net-zero carbon footprint at our production facilities and buildings by 2050.
CW: Siemens also announced a more than $40 million investment in Pomona, California, to build a new manufacturing site that will replace a legacy facility. Would you describe the operations at the current facility and the goals for this replacement facility?
BP: The current facility makes electrical power distribution equipment for the construction, industrial, and infrastructure markets.
The new building will add capacity for these product lines to meet growing demand for these traditional markets as well as the ability to manufacture ‘make ready’ low voltage power distribution equipment to support the rapidly expanding EV infrastructure market. The new factory will be much more sustainable than the existing facility, with a net-zero carbon footprint, while adding processes currently done at other Siemens facilities.
CW: Let’s talk a bit about the workforce scenario. Between these two projects, nearly 300 new jobs will be created. What could you tell someone interested in a job at one of these facilities?
BP: Both these facilities are part of the Siemens Electrical Products business unit that strongly promotes a culture of employee safety, career development, and focus on serving our customers.
Both facilities have a zero-harm culture with respect to safety and where teammates really look out for each other. We have several employees in each facility that have worked for us for decades, promoting a feeling of family and teamwork. They work on the backbone of the electrical infrastructure driving our country and take great pride in their work.
Finally, they are empowered to own their careers, with plenty of learning opportunities and training programs available to them. This development and our growth have enabled a large percentage of these employees to be promoted during the past two years.
CW: Is Siemens incorporating more robotics and AI into its manufacturing production lines? If so, how are they received by employees?
BP: On the production line, robots and AI can help make life easier — and free employees up to do next-level work. With the ongoing changes to manufacturing through digitalization, continuous training and upskilling of our workforce is imperative. Training and a learning culture by our workforce have helped workers keep pace with change.
We have worked hard in our facilities to dispel the belief that machines are out to replace employees. We are proud of several examples where we have trained/transitioned machine operators doing repetitive work to program and run robots. These employees have been energized by their skill enhancement and ability to amplify their impact on our business.
Angela Rose is an editor at CompanyWeek. Connect with her at email@example.com if you’d like to have your manufacturing company featured in the publication or would like to contribute a thought-leadership piece related to manufacturing in the U.S.