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Last week, hundreds of manufacturing leaders gathered at Envision 2018 in Orlando to explore the tremendous opportunities created by new and evolving technology.

For companies ahead of the curve, intelligent manufacturing already delivers huge financial and social benefits—from the increased margins that come with connected products and services to the financial and social benefits of more productive factories and more efficient supply chains.

Envision’s rich program of manufacturing sessions kicked off with a dazzling overview of what it takes to embrace intelligent manufacturing today, featuring contributions from Howard Heppelmann of PLM firm PTC, Ted Hill of industry automation leader Rockwell Automation, and Ryan Cahalane of Colfax Corporation.

Create monetized, connected products

Manufacturers estimate that 50 percent of their products will be smart and connected by 2020. After watching Cahalane, Heppelmann, and Hill summarize the Colfax story, it’s easy to see why.

As Cahalane explained, Colfax has already leveraged the PTC ThingWorx IoT platform and Microsoft IoT technology to accelerate its digital transformation—and add new value for customers. In addition, Colfax’s ESAB business now produces connected welding and cutting equipment that helps customers monitor usage and evaluate asset productivity. ESAB, meanwhile, can analyze the data its products create to better detect anomalies, help customers optimize performance, and minimize the time, impact, and costs involved in field service.

Heppelmann and Hill both emphasized that PTC and Rockwell Automation have built their connected-manufacturing services on Microsoft Azure Intelligent Cloud and IoT Edge. And to underscore the importance of connected manufacturing, Envision sponsors PROS and Icertis presented an entire session dedicated to monetizing connected products.

They discussed how, thanks to AI, the days of pricing products manually based on anecdotal experience and hoping for profitability are over.  It’s now possible to dynamically set winning prices based on a customer’s willingness to pay, and close contracts rapidly to bring agility and intelligence to the sales process.

“AI is poised to irrevocably change the way we do business. Sales, in particular, is an area that can be completely transformed by the power of AI, and companies are viewing it as a top priority for their AI-focused investments. With its ability to help create personalized customer experiences that today’s buyers demand, AI is empowering organizations to rapidly fuel growth.” — Ulrich von Beck, VP, Strategic Consulting at PROS

“For the first time in history, contracts are being digitized, allowing enterprises to reimagine contract management and place it at the center of their commercial processes. On the sell side, it is critical that contracting enables business and does not slow it down. Artificial Intelligence is transforming the contracting process and at Icertis we are already seeing real benefits for our customers with increased contract velocity, improved compliance and optimized commercial relationships.” ­­— Monish Darda, Co-founder and CTO of Icertis

Build the factory of the future and more intelligent supply chains

Intelligent manufacturing isn’t just about smart products. It’s about smarter processes—56 percent of manufacturers have already invested over $100 million toward smart factories.

This Envision session highlighted one of the latest developments on the shop floor: how, with manufacturing skills in short supply, mixed reality technology is poised to help companies meet growing customer demands for uniquely tailored products. Several presenters were enthusiastic about the opportunity to apply AI and mixed reality to deliver increased manufacturing agility and keep pace with growing product and supply chain complexity.

As Heppelmann previously demonstrated in the opening keynote, once data from 3D product design tools is made available throughout the value chain, it can be used right there in the heart of the factory, showing an engineer exactly how to assemble the customer’s bespoke product.

We were also lucky to hear Sanjiv Sidhu, a pioneer of intelligent supply chains and co-founder of o9 Solutions, speak about the role of cloud services and AI in realizing an autonomous supply chain, analogous to autonomous driving.

Create new value

The race to meet growing customer demands—and differentiate against the competition—is also forcing manufacturers to create new value streams. In fact, 80 percent of manufacturers expect to use new sectors to achieve growth in the next two years. To roll out new products, build services around existing ones, and optimize these new revenue streams quickly, they’ll need to commit to a more connected, AI-infused value chain. For example, Shell presented a summary of how it uses AI and Azure IoT to build smarter, safer gas stations.

Accelerate your intelligent manufacturing journey

Envision 2018 was full of valuable lessons for manufacturers, and now is the time to maintain that momentum. Continue learning how the latest cloud, AI, and IoT services can bring intelligent manufacturing within the reach of your businesses—whatever your products, whatever your size.