The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is revolutionizing many industries, and manufacturing is no exception. Manufacturers are using IIoT capabilities, amongst others, to digitize their overall businesses—finding new ways to engage with customers, optimize their factories, and find new sources of revenue. Operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) are coming together for the first time, creating new opportunities for digital manufacturers to transform their offerings through real-time communications across these systems of engagement.
Goldman Sachs says technologies and capabilities that contribute to the factory of the future—including virtual ecosystems, increased human and machine collaboration (or ‘cobots’), and the increase in real-time communication—could yield over half a trillion dollars of savings. [Goldman Sachs, Factory of the Future: Beyond the Assembly Line, June 2016]
True digital transformation starts not with technology transformation, but with business transformation, as I’ve discussed previously. In that context, we see two tiers of business transformation: one at the ‘process’ level and one at the ‘enterprise’ level.
Breakthrough: In-process analytics improves manufacturing processes
Let’s first start with how companies are using analytics to transform their processes. Automaker Volvo Cars is exploring how mixed reality technologies such as Microsoft HoloLens could someday change the design process. Global manufacturing services company Jabil is showing the industry how to improve maintenance and quality management practices.
Manufacturers are starting to differentiate by capitalizing on the benefits of doing a deep, fast, and holistic in-process analysis of their costly operations. An example of this is the work we have done with Sandvik Coromant to help the company achieve a differentiated way to improve the machining process. Using sophisticated sensors, Sandvik can capture trend anomalies over things like vibration, sound level, and other parameters that help predict the quality of the machining process and the adherence to spec of the machined part.
Achieving in-process analytics to apply machine learning techniques is not a trivial task, as it requires the right sensor to collect a higher volume of data and then distill that into the right information the business needs to make smart decisions. This should be done at a high speed of data processing across a complex set of variables, which at times can only be achieved in the cloud.
This process enables you to build an intelligent system that is capable of learning and then predicting outcomes over maintenance, quality, machine performance, or energy consumption; all of which can have a major cost impact within the manufacturing environment. The benefits experienced by Sandvik customers don’t stop there; they impact the entire value chain. This enables Sandvik to offer differentiated services; learn more about how their cutting tools can be improved; and provide recommendations about how to co-manage maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) inventory across the value chain.
For those looking for choice, Microsoft’s interoperable platform lets you extend this kind of intelligent system without any restrictions either from the cloud, on-premises or hybrid. Interoperability across a range of operating systems and complex scenarios is also possible using edge analytics with our Azure IoT Gateway SDK that maximizes data from sensors and solutions across the cloud continuum.
In-process analytics is especially effective in cases where the manufacturing process is destructive by nature, such as with Sandvik’s cutting tools. Sensors cannot be applied directly to self-destructive processes such as the cutting edge or the machined surfaces, because they are constantly being destroyed as the process takes place. This is where new technologies like Microsoft Cognitive Services can be applied: artificial intelligence helps to capture near-to-human senses that help improve the cutting process, just as a highly experienced yellow coat service engineer from Sandvik would do. Microsoft’s productivity solutions provide people with the right tools, the right visibility and the right information to make decisions that fundamentally improve business processes.
Transforming business models
These results take me to the second tier of business transformation; which is at the ‘enterprise’ level and helps change business models and ultimately improves business-to-business or business-to-consumer relationships.
In the case of Sandvik, the process transformation is impactful enough to drive an increased ability to mimic the human intelligence by remote monitoring the equipment. This helps the equipment learn and automatically fine-tune itself in order to ultimately predict machine, tool, and part behaviors to a point where virtual engineers can be used to provide field service recommendations.
Technologically speaking, Sandvik’s story is a great example of near-to-human intelligence applied to the manufacturing process by connecting operations. It securely ingests the right data, stores and manages larger volumes and variety of data, applies advanced analytics processing information at greater speed, and then helps systems and people interoperate with business processes.
In Sandvik’s case, technology makes a cutting tool smart enough to manage the machine, which in turn improves the manufacturing process and the aftermarket service. It is cognitive services that enables machines to be smart, people to be smart, and the process to be smart—across the entire ecosystem. Back to Goldman Sach’s concept of ‘cobots,’ people can interact with robots as if they are humans, driving new levels of efficiencies. Sandivk’s engineers no longer need to fly out to a customer’s location to solve a potential problem.
Adapting in the new age of technology and business practices
To help your business fuel your own factory of the future, Microsoft offers a unique value proposition with our interoperable platform and productivity solutions that connect people and organizations in new ways.
In addition, Microsoft has five key partnership types that meet the standards necessary and can drive the value for you. On top of the systems integrators and independent software vendors, our partnerships with semiconductor developers help achieve the SOC connectivity dream, network companies provide a broad base to work with service providers, and network telecommunications companies give cloud access wherever you are. We’re working with network hardware companies to deliver the edge connectivity with the PLCs, protocols and the industry standard bodies so we can integrate with the latest enterprise systems. Lastly, we work with industry standard bodies such as the OPC Foundation around extended support for the OPC standard across IoT offerings, including Azure IoT Suite and Universal Windows Platform.
The factory of the future requires these rich capabilities and partnerships, which represent the combination of technology, people, and process that enable feedback loops across connected smart products, rich data platforms, and connected customers and employees. These systems define an organization’s competitiveness and truly can change the entire industry landscape.
I welcome your opinion and thoughts.