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HoloLens and artificial intelligence-powered innovation on display at Hannover Messe 2017







My team and I have just returned from Hannover Messe 2017, truly the most exciting event we participate in all year. This is our opportunity to connect with manufacturing leaders and highlight the impact digital technology is having in the industry.

And what a trajectory of transformation we have seen over this last year! There are an incredible number of great Industrie 4.0 initiatives in action in real-world production environments today. The efforts have clearly shifted from proof-of-concepts and pilots to manufacturers realizing true value.

A key highlight at the event was how Microsoft, along with our partners and customers, are re-defining a new class of digital twin that is accelerating excellence in digital manufacturing today.

The evolution of the digital twin

Let us look back at the evolution of the digital twin. Thirty years ago, the industry was working to create a digital representation of a physical object using various information mirroring models.* That was the first generation of a digital twin, primarily driven by a company’s R&D and engineering departments. From about 2003-2014, the digital twin evolved into its second generation, which was about more sophisticated capabilities like CAD/CAM (computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing) models, digital process simulation, and 3D printing.

At this stage, the concept of a digital twin was only a digital representation of the physical object, which was quite intuitive, providing a rich 3D view that gave valuable insight into the physical asset. It could be supported through workstations, making accessibility more broad.

Then, as we reached the third generation of the digital twin, which started becoming more prominent over the last three years, digital twins evolved to support new intelligent services through IoT and connected physical objects. These connections allowed interaction with the physical representation of the object in new and exciting ways, such as the ability to predict potential breakdowns or service needs through real-time feedback loops. These capabilities have enabled manufacturers to realize and drive at scale new business models such as predictive maintenance and remote monitoring. This third generation is where we evolved from strictly an R&D and engineering focus to expand more broadly with people on the manufacturing shop floor as well as service technicians across the globe.

Now we are in the fourth generation, which has started becoming a reality in manufacturing just over the last year. This brought together the innovation from the first three generations, while adding in powerful new elements of mixed reality and the holographic experience. These advancements have enabled guided interactions, where you can project your digital twin to see the factory from a holographic point of view. By seamlessly erasing the limits between physical and digital, you are empowered to drive intelligent, immersive experiences and real-time collaboration with people across the world, who also see the virtual view of the physical object, even though they could be thousands of miles away.

Imagine the tremendous advantages this can bring. Service technicians can visualize problems ahead of a job to optimize the operation of existing equipment and perform predictive maintenance. Experts can support service technicians in remote locations and use the immersive and rich mixed reality experience to help troubleshoot complex issues. Leaders can create new revenue streams by transforming the products you take to market leveraging the efficiencies offered by these new digital twins. Managers can reinvent knowledge-sharing and professional development for employees, and the new digital twin capabilities also have a significant impact providing proactive guidance that can improve worker safety.

This fourth-generation digital twin is also leading to more of a blended human-machine collaboration with capabilities like cognitive services and artificial intelligence-based digital models that allow virtual interaction with the machinery to predict and proactively address operational issues. From an artificial intelligence perspective, this also enables self-healing workflows as well as autonomous vehicle capabilities.

The fourth-generation digital twin at work

Microsoft HoloLens is the secret weapon that takes the digital twin to this new level by allowing manufacturers and their task workers to have an entirely new way to visualize relevant data in the context of their real world. With HoloLens, we like to say we are giving manufacturers “x-ray vision.” At Hannover Messe, we shared exciting real-life use cases of this fourth-generation digital twin at work across services operations, manufacturing operations, and R&D and engineering.

Services operations

thyssenkrupp is one of the industry leaders using this new class of digital twin to transform many of their services businesses. Last year the company announced how, by using the predictive maintenance capabilities of Azure IoT, they could predict potential problems with elevators, which allow them to make time-saving interventions and quicker fixes for customers.


thyssenkrupp has since taken this innovation to the next level, using HoloLens and mixed reality. Service technicians can visualize potential causes of issues even before they go to a job site, work hands-free while on the job, and engage with remote experts who can virtually walk them through solutions to fix potentially very complex problems. Work that used to take one to two hours is now taking less than 20 minutes. This completely changes the dynamics of how services can be done worldwide, with experts not needing to accompany the service technician for complex jobs. At Hannover Messe, thyssenkrupp also announced how they are using HoloLens and Azure to design and deliver custom-built stair lift home solutions with an even higher standard of customer experience, and at a faster pace, than ever before.

Another example of how digital twin capabilities are advancing services operations is with packaging pioneer Tetra Pak. The company is employing new digital tools that enable their cloud-connected machines to predict exactly when equipment needs maintenance, averting many breakdowns. Tetra Pak is also leveraging the power of HoloLens to develop a virtual service business which allows senior technicians to guide remote technicians for more than 8,000 packaging machines in plants across the globe, even when a project is thousands of miles away.

Manufacturing operations

To achieve excellence in manufacturing operations, Rockwell Automation worked with Great Lakes Brewing Co. to bring automation and analytics into craft brewing operations through its FactoryTalk Analytics for Devices. With plant floor expertise, Rockwell is transforming their customers’ businesses using data intelligence and deep analytics services from Microsoft, including Microsoft Cognitive Services and the Microsoft Bot Framework, to improve efficiency, and gain insight into their operation.

Sandvik Coromant is using digital twin technology to unlock new revenue opportunities in entirely innovative ways. The company builds cutting tools, including blades used in industrial milling plants, that go inside of industrial machines. In the past, experienced technical engineers would determine how well their blades were running by “putting their ear directly on the machine and listening” to whether the blade was dull or in need of replacement. By using Azure Industrial IoT machine learning, Sandvik Coromant digitally replicated a human skill that took years to master, not only giving the company an entirely new service offering to resell to other manufacturers and machine-builders like DMG MORI, but they have also reduced idle time by 50%, saving millions of dollars for their customers.

R&D and engineering

R&D teams and design engineers are using this fourth generation of the digital twin from the concept stage all the way through to design in a very fluid and iterative way. This significantly cuts down the time to market and creates rich experiences. For example, Jabil and production partner Radius are using design software on Microsoft Surface Studio and the visualization capabilities of HoloLens to improve innovation in the manufacturing process. The 3D content allows for easy manipulation and design refinement prior to a product’s introduction on the factory floor. Jabil’s manufacturing agility also extends to 3D printing technology, which accelerates the design, build and analyze cycles for specific product components in combination with HoloLens.

Volkswagen is using digital twin technology to develop the car of the future by bringing the physical and virtual together to develop new car prototypes, including styling, UX testing, and concept development. HoloLens allows Volkswagen engineers to work on a virtual vehicle, change equipment and design new components in real-time. HoloLens not only projects each design or equipment change directly onto the physical model but it also allows several project teams to work at the same time across different locations.

It’s exciting to see the innovation we, along with our customers and partners, are driving with digital twins to do things that were previously impractical—or even impossible. When information is in 3D, we learn it faster and understand it more deeply. With IoT sensors and machine learning tools, manufacturers know when something is going to break before it actually does, which helps them plan and bring the exact right tool for the job. Together with HoloLens, the manufacturing workforce can be more efficient and always have the right skills in the right place, at the right time.

This fourth generation of the digital twin, powered by HoloLens, artificial intelligence, and cognitive services, is further accelerating digital excellence in manufacturing.

I invite you to watch first-hand how we, along with our customers and partners, are redefining this new class of digital twin.

And for all the key moments from Hannover Messe 2017, please check out our highlights here.

Twitter: @sanrav

*Dr. Michael Grieves and John Vickers – University of Michigan, “Digital Twin: Mitigating Unpredictable, Undesirable Emergent Behavior in Complex Systems (Excerpt)” 17 August 2016