KEY POINTS

  • Barbara Humpton thinks US companies should prepare for other crises in the future
  • Humpton suggested companies should keep libraries of “digital files”
  • A ‘digital twin’ may be thought of as a virtual replica of physical devices

Barbara Humpton, President and CEO of Siemens USA, a unit of German industrial and manufacturing conglomerate Siemens AG, thinks U.S. industry must not only respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic but also should prepare for other crises in the future.

And the transformation to a digital economy will be crucial in this changing world.

“We don’t know what the next crisis may be,” Humpton said during a Washington Post Live webcast on Wednesday. “But rest assured there will be one … We’re going to need critical materials as we advance and deal with the crises ahead of us, be they pandemics, be they fires or be they storm events. What is coming at us is constantly changing.”

In terms of strategic preparedness for the next crisis, Humpton suggested companies should keep libraries of “digital files” or “digital blueprints” of critical physical items, like medical devices and pharmaceuticals, that would be required in an emergency.

“With digital files ... or a strategic ‘digital twin’ reserve, we could then activate manufacturing capability across the U.S., increasing the speed to reach regional supply chains,” she said.

A "digital twin" may be thought of as a virtual replica of physical devices that scientists and engineers can use to run simulations before the actual devices are built.

Siemens has so many diverse areas of business that Humpton describes the company as a “digital partner, an equipment provider and service provider.”

Humpton said she and other industry leaders are envisioning the establishment of a “strategic digital twin reserve” by asking manufacturers to build out digital versions of their physical products.

“We can’t possibly [physically] stockpile everything we would need [in the next crisis],” she said. “This way [with digital twins] we can ramp up for scale when needed.”

Of the many uses of “digital twins,” Humpton cited the example of NASA’S Mars Curiosity Rover vehicle.

“It would be impossible for NASA or the Jet Propulsion Lab to recreate the conditions on Mars,” she noted. “So what they did was create a digital twin of the Rover itself and a digital twin of the environment in which it would be used. And [by] simulating the landing of Curiosity thousands of times, they found the optimal parameters to ensure a safe landing on the planet. That same technology can be used now within companies as diverse as aerospace-defense and cosmetics.”

With respect to power generation, Humpton discussed how Siemens assisted the Blue Lake Rancheria, a Native American reservation in Northern California, which launched own its low-carbon community microgrid in 2017.

Throughout the wildfires and related power outages in California in 2019, Blue Lake Rancheria’s energy systems were up and running due to its microgrid.

The Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid uses a Siemens microgrid controller, called the Spectrum Power Microgrid Management System.

“Local communities wanted more control over their own power generation and their connections to the grid,” Humpton said. “We [Siemens] put in a microgrid… and placed control in the hands of the community so they could have their own onsite renewable power generation… and then connect to the [larger] grid when needed.”

Humpton thinks the COVID-19 pandemic will lead more manufacturers to accelerate their investments in digital tools and expand domestic operations – given how global supply chains have been shattered.

She predicted a "resurgence of American manufacturing."

Companies that in the past were "dependent on a supply chain that runs through a single thread, through another country … have encouragement to bring manufacturing closer to the point of consumption," Humpton said.

“We're reaching out to manufacturers across the U.S. and bringing our digital enterprise as well as the automation controls that we know will be needed to help manufacturers ramp up a new kind of manufacturing production at a different scale and speed. We're going to see the digitalization of manufacturing like we've never seen it before."

Siemens USA, which has some 50,000 employees, has expertise in electrification, automation and digitalization.

“And that's all coming into play right now as the nation wrestles with COVID-19,” Humpton told Mike Milliken. “And we have people who are helping maintain operations at hospitals, at utilities, at government facilities, military sites, data centers, you name it. We're also helping to support city services such as transportation, water and wastewater management and the national security emergency response systems.”

Humpton cited some of the activities Siemens engaged in when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S.

“We've got expertise in hospital systems,” she said. “So when the state of New York needed new hospital capacity to be built, we were there.”

Humpton specifically mentioned a hospital in Westchester County, New York, that was inundated by COVID-19 patients.

“Westchester obviously was an early site of outbreak,” she noted. ”The community [in Westchester] has now turned an arena into a hospital… with the help of Siemens technology. Think about the power that's needed for a hospital – they’re big power users with all the electrical equipment inside. But it's also maybe less known that you need to manage airflow inside these facilities very carefully. The whole goal is to really protect people who are serving the patients and prevent the spread of infection. So negative air pressure and monitoring systems that could be installed remotely so that technicians wouldn't have to enter patient areas. We could keep things up and running without having to really put more people in danger.”

Humpton warned, however, that until an effective vaccine for COVID-19 emerges, U.S. corporations will operate very differently from how they did in the past.