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Filled with unimaginable change caused by the pandemic, the manufacturing industry witnessed a perfect storm: a significant disruption in terms of business continuity, operational visibility, remote work, employee safety, and the list goes on. However, manufacturers have responded and are continually adapting as we all go through the recovery process.

To help you accelerate this journey, announcing the Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing, available for public preview by the end of June.

By aligning cloud services to industry-specific requirements, we give customers a starting point in the cloud that easily integrates into their existing operations. Microsoft Industry Clouds provide an on-ramp to the broader portfolio of Microsoft cloud services because they enable customers to begin with the areas where the need for technology or business transformation is most urgent. Our mission is to support the customer journey for each industry, delivering an integrated customer experience across the varied offerings of the Microsoft Cloud.

What makes the Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing unique is our commitment to industry-specific standards and communities, such as the Open Manufacturing Platform,  the OPC Foundation, and the Digital Twins Consortium, as well as the co-innovation with our rich ecosystem of partners.  

Why now? We know that the disruptions stemming from the pandemic are here to stay, bringing with them a heightened need for innovation and risk management. We are at a tipping point where the old ways of doing business will no longer suffice. Manufacturers are asking for help accelerating the transformation of not only their operations but all aspects of their end-to-end business, perhaps most notably their people and culture.

We have seen our customers accelerate investment in five key areas in response to COVID-19 in 2020, and we expect to see this persist into 2021 and beyond. These are areas where Microsoft and our partners can help connect experiences across your operations, workforce, design and engineering processes, customer engagements, and the end-to-end value chain with Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing.

  • Building more agile factories
  • Transforming your workforce
  • Engaging customers in new ways
  • Creating more resilient supply chains
  • Unlocking innovation and delivering new services

Building more agile factories

During the height of the pandemic, many manufacturers had limited-to-no access to their factories or employees, demonstrating that the industry was not prepared to operate remotely.

A pre-pandemic PwC study shows that 91 percent of industrial companies are investing in digital factories, but only six percent of all respondents describe their factories as “fully digitized.” In multiple research studies conducted during the pandemic, manufacturing leaders surveyed are accelerating their smart factory investments. Operating remotely everywhere, simulating everything, and automating anywhere have taken on a new, vital importance.

Solutions from Microsoft and our partners have helped connect billions of different assets, process massive amounts of real-time data, and deploy artificial intelligence (AI) at the edge. For example, we have helped industry leaders like Kennametal become a cloud-first company, using the internet of things (IoT) to boost factory output in certain operations and bring better solutions to their customers.

Within the factory and beyond, security remains top of mind. According to Frost & Sullivan, 62 percent of manufacturers are concerned about securing their solutions edge-to-cloud. To strengthen and streamline IoT and OT security, we recently announced the general availability of Azure Defender for IoT. This security technology has been deployed in some of the world’s largest and most complex environments, including Global 2000 firms in manufacturing, chemicals, and life sciences.

Transforming your workforce

Closing the skills gap and reskilling employees is more important than ever because now, we have added concerns about employee safety and working remotely.

Manufacturers are eagerly embracing technologies that help them attract, hire, onboard, and retain the next generation of workers. They are also striving to reskill their existing workforce to act on data insights, and use mixed reality and AI, to uplevel their work. Ultimately this, gives them the ability to address existing skill gaps, secure remote work, and enhance safety for frontline workers.

One striking example: when travel restrictions and social distancing requirements hit, Honeywell quickly turned to RealWear and Microsoft Teams to create a virtual version of their factory acceptance testing process and keep their business moving.

Customers are also using Microsoft Power Platform to help their workforce return to the workplace with confidence. We are also doing our part to ensure the next generation has the new skills needed for the digital age. For example, in June 2020, we launched a global skills initiative and reinforced our commitment to reskilling the 25 million people unemployed as a result of the pandemic.

Engaging customers in new ways

While we have been working with customers such as Lexmark and Sandvik Coromant for several years to realize their vision for product-as-a-service, the pandemic has only accelerated this need.

Customer service organizations are now delivering proactive service using AI. HP is a strong example: they have had great success in improving customer service by using AI virtual assistants to handle 70-80 percent of their help desk calls.

Manufacturers are telling us there is a need to have a fully connected system that provides one single view of their customers and devices. This will give them the intelligence to enable proactive service, accelerate agent and technician productivity, and simplify the contact center technology stack to reduce fragmentation and maintenance overhead. To that end, Microsoft has invested in the service suite of Microsoft Dynamics 365 applications to optimize support delivery and enhance customer satisfaction.

Creating more resilient supply chains

When it comes to supply chain, visibility and connectedness are key. Starting from the factory floor, transformation needs to move quickly, embracing the entire value chain, connecting from all suppliers to all customers.

Consider the efforts made in the UK at the very start of the pandemic. Thirty of the UK’s leading companies came together—including Microsoft partners Accenture, Avanade, PTC, and Siemens—and used Microsoft Teams, Microsoft HoloLens, and Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management to set up a brand new supply chain and produce 20 years’ worth of ventilators in 12 weeks under the VentilatorChallengeUK program. Every ventilator built has the potential to save a life.  Now, that is impact from a diverse and powerful ecosystem of partners and competitors alike, and at unprecedented speedManufacturers are using the cloud to build more resilience into their supply chains.

Unlock innovation and deliver new services

We believe we can accelerate innovation by empowering manufacturers to design, simulate, and validate sustainable products and processes using digital twins and the affordable, scalable power of the cloud.

As a manufacturer ourselves at Microsoft, sustainability is very much top of mind. Microsoft is on a mission to be carbon neutral and water positive by 2030, and erase our entire carbon footprint by 2050 from our inception in 1975. But we will only find success by partnering with others to amplify awareness and develop joint solutions that benefit both the business and the environment.

Just look at the work that Bosch is doing to help their customers improve building performance and reduce carbon footprints using the power of Azure Digital Twins.

Stay updated on Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing

The pandemic has taught us that the fourth industrial revolution is no longer hype. Every business is on a digital journey. The ones who are well into their journey are creating dramatic gains in terms of productivity, agility, sustainability, speed to market and the list goes on.

It is exciting to see this work really taking hold. It might take several years before we see it scale across the entire industry, but it is happening. And with the Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing, we, along with our partners, are committed to supporting your business, no matter where you are on your digital transformation journey.

Stay informed about Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing to learn how you can help manufacture a more resilient and sustainable future.