Plant 4.0 initiative Q&A with Eric Duchesne

In the dynamic landscape of innovation, Plant 4.0 emerges as a groundbreaking initiative where industry giants and burgeoning start-ups converge. Spearheaded by Total since 2016, this open-innovation concept aims to bridge the gap between established industrial players and ambitious start-ups seeking real-world testing grounds. The collaborative efforts have expanded this year, welcoming prominent industrial partners including Eiffage, Air Liquide, Solvay, VINCI Energies, and AREVA. Following a rigorous selection process, five visionary start-ups have been chosen, marking the commencement of a journey where fresh ideas meet real-world applications.

Setting-up a meeting between them is what Plant 4.0 is about. This innovative open-innovation concept, developed by Total since 2016, allows start-ups to test their technologies in the facilities of big industrial companies which are looking for innovative and real-world solutions. Building on the success of the first edition, Total is joined this year by five major industrial players : Solvay, AREVA, Eiffage, Air Liquide et VINCI Energies. This line-up will give the start-ups more options for incubation. The tough selection process is now over, and 5 start-ups have been chosen to start working.

“For the start-ups selected, it’s an opportunity to try out their technology by moving it to the application stage”, Eric Duchesne, technologist and president of the 2017 jury, tells

Eric Duchesne, technologist and president of the 2017 jury

This year, other major industrial operators are represented on the jury. Why is it important for them to take part in the project?

E.D. / Total did in fact organize the first one alone. This year, five partners attracted by the concept — Eiffage, Air Liquide, Solvay, VINCI Energies and AREVA — joined us. It gives the start-ups more options for incubation and more potential backers. For Total, it’s a chance to run our ideas by our partners, with whom we have common issues and a desire to pool our work through this initiative. We have the support of Impulse Lab, which provides us with an incubation facility and a freedom to speak that is invaluable for start-ups interacting with big companies. So it’s open innovation in several respects, through discussing ideas with the start-ups, Impulse Lab and our partners.

How do you organize the work, with so many industrial companies concerned by potentially different issues?

E.D. / We have shared challenges, such as how to make our operations safer and more efficient while cutting costs. So we asked the start-ups to focus on a single topic, measurement, and to come up with tangible solutions in four areas: acoustic detection of leaks and abnormal events, corrosion monitoring, flow rate measurement using non-invasive instruments and manual valve position indicators. We broadened our search to include start-ups ready to present a project that was already pretty far along, at the tool stage, rather than just a concept or prototype. We were especially interested in those with international experience.

How do you sift through them all?

E.D. / We added another challenge to the stated topic: their proposals had to not just process data, but also generate new data. On September 22, we hosted the nine teams of young entrepreneurs — out of 30 entries shortlisted — at the Booster lab at Total Michelet – La Défense, so they could make the case for their solutions. We have retained 5: Distran, Disruptive Technologies, Remedial Performance, Orelia et Aloxy (See videos below).

What will happen now for the companies that were picked?

E.D. / The goal now is to send them to our sites (and those of our partners), with the support of a sponsor to advance to the concrete implementation phase. That will involve developing what’s called a proof of concept (PoC), in other words, proof that their solution works. The PoC is just one step. If it’s conclusive, the next challenge is to deploy the solution at other sites, in all our segments, where it will be technically and economically applicable. As the chairman of the 2017 jury, I can say that this session will be a complete success if, in the next two years, we definitively adopt a solution, then deploy it across many production sites.

As the chosen start-ups embark on their journey within the Plant 4.0 framework, the collaborative spirit between industry leaders and innovative minds becomes a beacon of transformative progress. The fusion of Total’s pioneering efforts with the collective wisdom of industrial partners propels these start-ups towards tangible solutions in critical areas like acoustic detection, corrosion monitoring, flow rate measurement, and manual valve position indicators. This venture not only marks a significant leap in open innovation but also sets the stage for potential breakthroughs that could revolutionize operational safety, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. Plant 4.0, with its roots firmly grounded in shared challenges and collective innovation, promises to shape the future of industrial landscapes.

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