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Manufacturing—and the technology that makes it more intelligent—is shaping our future in exciting ways that benefit manufacturers, employees, customers, and the world at large. Never have the challenges been greater, yet the leadership and innovations on display at this year’s Hannover Messe left the 220,000 attendees with an optimistic view of a successful future.

Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. At Hannover Messe, we expressed this mission through several announcements that help manufacturers address the challenges and opportunities facing them today, to achieve better customer, workforce and social outcomes. Namely:

Throughout the show, I saw compelling themes and stories that illustrate how manufacturers are embracing new technologies. These technologies help manufacturers address core challenges for business differentiation and profitability. They also help address sustainability, workforce, and cybersecurity challenges with innovative and responsible manufacturing practices.

Moving AI to the edge—and to the mainstream

Last year was about the mainstream adoption of IoT. This year, AI has become part of the manufacturing mainstream; AI is expected to lead to a 70 percent increase in demand for products and services.

Adoption of AI and the insights it offers is capitalizing on the new digital feedback loops enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT). In turn, these feedback loops enable manufacturers to start their transformation from a traditional focus on production to “product-as-a-service.” For more on how manufacturers are adopting AI, read this article in The Economist.

In talking with customers, partners, industry analysts, and observers at Hannover Messe 2019, the real breakthrough we saw this year was the ability to deploy AI on the intelligent edge. Microsoft Windows IoT, Azure IoT Hub, and Azure Stack technologies help manufacturers run AI models in near real time and integrate them into manufacturing systems. Exhibit visitors were also intrigued by the Bonsai technology Microsoft acquired last year; Bonsai helps users with limited AI knowledge train manufacturing systems and robotics to perform tasks. Together, these Microsoft offerings represent significant advancements towards intelligent manufacturing.

In our exhibit, Microsoft customer Siemens Gamesa demonstrated how the renewable energy company is minimizing the cost of servicing wind turbines by using the power of AI to diagnose potential blade issues.

Learn more about how you can lead with confidence in the age of AI with Microsoft AI Business School.

The Microsoft difference: addressing the manufacturing skills gap

Manufacturers everywhere are finding it challenging to attract first-line workers with the right skills and then empowering them to adopt and make the best use of rapidly evolving technologies and business processes. One study found that manufacturers address this challenge by applying AI, for an expected 76 percent increase in worker output.

While AI was arguably the technology star of Hannover Messe 2019, what differentiated our showcases was the focus on applying AI and other technologies to address the growing skills gap in manufacturing. Microsoft customers and partners demonstrated how they make innovative use of collaboration, AI, and mixed reality to empower and equip employees with the required skills for digital manufacturing.

For example, Microsoft 365 collaboration technologies help Goodyear drive productivity and generate new efficiencies to improve product delivery. Cummins uses Microsoft 365 to reduce skill gaps and introduce a modern framework for knowledge management and collaboration.

What really drew the crowds to our stand at Hannover Messe was HoloLens 2 and our new generation of mixed-reality apps that empower the manufacturing workforce. Microsoft partner PTC is helping Howden customers use mixed reality to reduce unplanned equipment downtime and better align overall maintenance strategies. And Bilfinger showed how to use AI to tag videos captured by any device for an internal knowledge repository called Industrial Tube.

Read more about how technology can accelerate development of manufacturing skills in this Microsoft white paper: The Workforce of the Future

Digital feedback loop and connected product innovation

Manufacturers are now actively exploring a move from production to product-as-a-service. They have good reason to do so: 83 percent of manufacturers said that selling products as services would increase profits. (Columbus Global, The Annual Manufacturing Report 2017: Key statistics, 2017) Digital services can also help manufacturers strengthen customer relationships, differentiate their offerings, and gain a competitive edge.

For many manufacturers, this journey begins with a focus on higher-margin services that give them new insights into customer outcomes. Connected field service was perhaps the most popular business scenario on display at Hannover Messe 2019. At the Microsoft booth, Hitachi Solutions showed how manufacturers can start their digital feedback loop to gain new customer and product insights using IoT, mixed-reality technology, and AI. This feedback also helps manufacturers reduce costs, predict equipment failures, accelerate repairs, recommend prevention measures, and increase customer satisfaction and sales.

The next step is to apply data for improving a product’s operation and design. At this year’s exhibit, FEV showed how it uses a feedback loop that collects data from autonomous connected cars in order to teach them to drive. The company’s work is one of the most advanced examples of manufacturing’s future model for innovation in all connected products. Within the next few years, we will see this innovation expand as hundreds of millions of items will be represented by digital twins.

Research firm Frost & Sullivan offers helpful insights on how connected product innovation will help manufacturers accelerate product development, achieve competitive advantage, and deliver better value to customers by leveraging the digital feedback loop enabled by IoT-connected products.

Technology for sustainability

Manufacturing has a great impact on creating a more sustainable world through innovations in areas such as food and water supplies, smart cities, autonomous vehicles, and urban agriculture. Sustainability is becoming a more urgent need: by 2050, we will need a 70 percent increase in agricultural output to feed the world’s population.

Many Microsoft customers and partners are making notable use of technology in their sustainability efforts. Ecolab uses Azure and data analytics to improve water management. Bühler and Microsoft are working to improve safety and production efficiencies in global food chains. ABB connects utility and building automation systems to cloud services to create a city of the future, populated by safer and cleaner autonomous vehicles and smart buildings. And OSRAM showcased smart indoor farms and precision agriculture with cloud-based lighting control.

Discover other ways Microsoft is helping industry use AI in sustainability programs through the AI for Earth project and the Farmbeats pilot program.

Trust and security

The connected factory trend is gaining momentum; 80 percent of manufacturers expect improved factory productivity will help them increase output levels. (Columbus Global, The Annual Manufacturing Report 2017: Key statistics, 2017) In a world of ever-greater connectivity, technology and its users need both strong trust and strong security. Microsoft is continually working with our partners and customers to enhance both.

For manufacturers—whose products impact the daily lives of so many people, and where product reliability is critical—securing their products and products-as-a-service remains a mission-critical mandate. There’s also a strong financial incentive for manufacturing to focus on cybersecurity. By 2021, one estimate predicts cybersecurity financial damages will reach USD 6 trillion worldwide.

For security, it’s important to look beyond point solutions by viewing security end to end. It takes an ecosystem of hardware and software providers to develop a complete security solution—an ecosystem that we continue to develop through our partnerships and communities.

Learn about the latest security offerings for industrial IoT highlighted by Microsoft at the show.

Continue the conversation

Visitors to Hannover Messe 2019 were energized by the innovations and applications of technology on display. We invite you to see more from the show on our event page, learn more about the future of intelligent manufacturing and get the latest updates by following us on social.