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Even before we introduced the Azure IoT Suite back in 2015, Microsoft was helping manufacturers realize the full business value of IoT. Backed by decades of experience in enterprise, we quickly became an innovator in industrial IoT (IIoT). Microsoft solutions have helped connect billions of different assets, process massive amounts of real-time data, and deploy AI to the edge. More recently, we became the first major cloud platform to offer end-to-end security using OPC UA—an accomplishment that has made us a recognized leader in IIoT platforms for manufacturing.

Our commitment to openness has been key to this success, helping us stand out in the IIoT landscape. Every aspect of our IIoT approach hinges on solutions that can be applied across different systems and data formats. Our focus on openness simplifies interoperability, allowing manufacturers to break free of the proprietary interfaces that have traditionally defined their industry and paving the way toward our customers’ digital transformation.

Using open standards to increase flexibility

Openness has been a foundational strategy at Microsoft for years. In 1994, for example, we partnered with the OPC Foundation, which developed the Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPC UA). This standard was the first significant step to helping manufacturers easily compare and analyze diverse datasets, regardless of vendor. Years later, with the emergence of cloud and IoT technology, we pioneered the use of the OPC UA standard to promote interoperability for cloud communication.

Even early on we knew how important it would be for manufacturers to connect and communicate across disparate systems. That’s why we’ve built support for the OPC UA standard into our full spectrum of IIoT solutions. This frees manufacturers to choose the equipment and tools that best fit their needs, knowing those solutions will integrate with our stack.

Our flexibility even extends to OPC UA itself. Although we recommend following its standard, it is not a requirement. All our IIoT services are open source.

Using open standards to unlock data and make smarter decisions

In the Industry 4.0 era, the ability to collect and analyze data across an organization is as important as using the most efficient machines and systems. But proprietary data formats can stand in the way, making it impossible to compare information across locations, hindering the ability to gain the business insights customers need.

Our solutions connect diverse platforms, then standardize the data into a common, open format. Suddenly, data across an organization can be compared, illuminating valuable new business opportunities or processes that lead to significant cost savings.

For manufacturers whose data may remain relevant and valuable for several decades, this capability is essential. Open standards allow them to not only access and analyze past data, but also makes them less vulnerable to change by enabling them to more easily adapt to future conditions. Because they don’t have to conform to legacy formats or systems they can change equipment on the floor or upgrade their software solutions as their needs change, all without compromising access to past data.

Using open standards to build trust

We have also earned a reputation as a trusted IIoT partner that can develop secure and open cutting-edge solutions. For instance, to ensure seamless interoperability across the board, we convert all our customers’ proprietary data into an open format prior to transferring it into the cloud. Microsoft is currently the only cloud vendor with this capability.

Features like this not only create business value, they’re also secure. By increasing visibility across platforms and data streams, as well as giving manufacturers the ability to see their entire production line through a single dashboard, we simplify the process of managing access, authentication, validation, and encryption. Pair this with the comprehensive efforts we put into IoT cybersecurity and customers have an ecosystem they can consistently rely on for both innovation and protection.

Leveraging open standards through the Open Manufacturing Platform (OMP)

Our leadership in creating an open and interoperable IIoT platform for manufacturers and machine builders inspired the creation of an alliance of manufacturers and their value chain, co-founded last year with BMW. Called the Open Manufacturing Platform (OMP), the goal of this cross-industry initiative is to accelerate manufacturing innovation at scale by using an open approach to solve common problems. Completely cloud vendor-neutral, the OMP provides its members with specifications and sometimes even components for developing fully open-source smart factory solutions, production efficiencies, and new IIoT applications. The goal is to help more industrial organizations learn and benefit from open technologies while coming up with novel ways to solve industrial challenges.

“This is very good news for the manufacturing industry,” said Stefan Hoppe, president and CEO of the OPC Foundation. “For a long time, companies have promoted proprietary, closed ecosystems—the OMP commitment to open development will shape tomorrow’s manufacturing.”

 

Our intense focus on openness has helped Microsoft become a leader in the IIoT field and ushered in today’s era of smart manufacturing. Learn more about OPC UA and how Microsoft Manufacturing IoT is using it to create additional value across the IIoT space.