Ensto’s Village of Innovation

Home of Auguste, Ergoswitch, and Smartcloser, Ensto’s Bagnères-de-Bigorre plant in the foothills of the Pyrenees is the source for an incredible amount of innovation.

Perhaps it’s something in the water?

In 28 B.C. Romans discovered the warm waters coming from Mount Olivet, and quickly a town sprung up. Bagnères-de-Bigorre, now a commune of 8,000 residents, is home to an inordinate amount of innovation: products like Auguste, Ergoswitch, and Smartcloser.

Whatever the reason, Bagnères-de-Bigorre is without question Ensto’s capital of network automation, a group of people with amazing spirit dedicated to improving the efficiency of electricity distribution.


The most famous innovation is likely Auguste, an overhead load-break switch which uses SF6 gas. Auguste is the fail-proof solution to reconfigure a network in the event of a problem, isolating the faulty section and allowing the maximum number of customers to remain with electrical service.

“We know SF6,” says Anthony Sberro, R&D Support Engineer for Calculations and Simulations. Sberro is talking about Sulfur hexafluoride, an isolated gas used to reduce isolation distance and extinguish an electric arc. And the Auguste that contains the gas will last 30 years in the harshest climates, which is why Comptoir Algérien du Matériel Electrique et Gazier, Algeria’s national electricity provider, ordered almost 3,000 of them produced in four batches to be completed in summer 2015.

In addition to quality, flexibility was a factor in winning the order. “If you want it in red, no problem,” says Industrial Manager Alexandre Fontbonne. “And although the CAMEG order was huge, we’re willing to sell 10 or 20 units, too. We are not dependent on huge quantities.” Fontbonne notes that Ensto even has made a version of Auguste for Tatarstan.

Fontbonne says Ensto was flexible enough to adapt its connector for CAMEG, create installation documents in Arabic, produce an instructional video, and send an Ensto Pro team to Algeria to train 100 installers.

Auguste itself is so versatile that it can be adapted for almost any country. For lower kilovolt networks where it isn’t suitable, there is Ergoswitch, sometimes referred to as Auguste 2.0.

Ergoswitch: Auguste 2.0

Since Auguste comes in one range, 36 kV, Ergoswitch was developed for 12 kV networks.

Also an SF6 insulated overhead load-break switch, Ergoswitch embraces ergonomic optimization and reduces the number of essential components to ease installation in the field.

While Auguste mounts vertically and is operated with a lever and telescopic rod, Ergoswitch can be mounted horizontally or vertically and has a horizontal lever operated with a stick and hook.

“For the less-than-15-kilovolt markets you need a more compact switch,” says Sberro, “ and the market for these products is huge.” He says this market is new terrain for Ensto, who has previously catered to customers who want all the options on their switch. “But we’re able to add options to the 12 kV product.”

Ergoswitch will go to market in January 2016 after independent qualifications are made in summer.

But the team isn’t resting. Project Manager Yves Florian, designers Baptiste Sanchez, Christian Lisbani, Alain Chaumette (from Villefranche), with Sberro as support, are currently at work developing a 24 kV Ergoswitch. And of course, there’s also Smartcloser, for instance.


Think of Smartcloser as the circuit breaker in your home, but one made for medium voltage lines. Made for every market in the world, Smartcloser is a gas-free recloser that can open and close lightning fast. Since Auguste is a disconnector which breaks the load, Smartcloser is made to be paired with it.

“You guys are Ensto’s mad scientists!” remarks a visiting journalist of the seemingly endless innovation.

“Well, we try,” smiles Sberro.

Secrets of innovation?

Bagnères-de-Bigorre is a bit out of the way, located several hours by car from Toulouse. How is so much innovation generated from a locale where human resources are not limitless?

First, tools have been developed which link Bagnères-de-Bigorre in real time to Ensto’s other resources. Alexandre Fontbonne developed an elaborate Excel planning tool for the production of Auguste. While only physically in the plant a few times per month, he and Manufacturing Manager Eric Lavigne use the tool to monitor CAMEG production in real time, as well as speak every morning regarding other orders.

This process has worked smoothly. After early batches, CAMEG performed visits to the plant to give authorization to ship, but halfway through the process they no longer feel the oversight is necessary.

More people were of course required to meet the CAMEG order. Ensto hired 28 temporary workers, all from within a ten-kilometer radius. “It’s all about human resources,” says Fontbonne. “If you have good people involved in a project you can accomplish anything.”

Author: Scott Diel