Empowering manufacturers with greater insight

Manufacturers are embracing the internet of things to enable exceptional levels of intelligence, performance and connectivity. Jacqui Griffiths reports

Jacqui Griffiths
By Jacqui Griffiths on 14 March 2016
Empowering manufacturers with greater insight

This article first appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of OnWindows.

As the internet of things (IoT) continues to gather momentum, manufacturers are increasingly aware of its power to enable intelligent, connected, service-centric ­businesses. IDC’s 2015 Global IoT Decision Maker Survey found that 66% of manufacturers now view the IoT as a strategic initiative, and this is borne out by the growing number of businesses that are implementing IoT solutions to turn data from connected devices into actionable insights that support fast, accurate decisions.

Microsoft’s commitment to the IoT can be seen in the growing number of new services, from ­real-time data processing to machine learning, that it has made available through Azure over recent months. The results can be seen in projects such as the connected factory created by KUKA Systems Group, where robots sense their surroundings and work alongside human staff; or Lido Stone Works, which has cut maintenance costs by connecting its factory-floor machines with the experts who made them, resulting in a 30% increase in productivity. Most recently, Microsoft’s Azure IoT Suite and Cortana Analytics Suite have generated excitement across the industry, with several implementations illustrating the potential they hold for manufacturers.

Azure IoT enables secure and simple IoT connectivity by providing a hub for organisations to connect devices securely to the cloud. Its potential to enable truly service-centric business is illustrated by Rockwell Automation, which is already using Azure IoT to extend its monitoring systems for valuable capital assets across the oil and gas supply chain. “The equipment our customers use for extracting, moving, refining and selling fuel is the heart of the supply chain,” says Gary Pearsons, VP and GM for the services business at Rockwell Automation. “Built on Microsoft Azure IoT services, our solutions enable unprecedented efficiency by bringing the data generated by even the most remote assets into the cloud, driving business insights and evolving an entire industry.”

Rockwell Automation’s Azure IoT powered solutions enable the remote monitoring of assets, with the ability to use the collected data for predictive and preventative maintenance. “Data visibility across the entire supply chain enables insights that help our customers to orchestrate everything from deliveries to equipment maintenance, ultimately creating a better fuelling experience for drivers,” says Pearsons.

Over on the desert test sites of North America, Cortana Analytics Suite is helping to accelerate the North American Eagle (NAE) team’s progress towards breaking the current land-speed world record of 763 miles per hour. The NAE team has deployed Cortana Analytics Suite on board its rebuilt F-104 Lockheed ‘Starfighter’, where its advanced analytics capabilities – including machine learning, big data storage and processing, and perceptual intelligence – are enabling them to turn data from into intelligent action.

Safety is of paramount importance, and the speed of the jet-powered car has to be increased incrementally as the team works towards the record. With every increase, the team needs to strike a balance between keeping the car from taking flight and preventing it from sinking into the desert – and to do that, it needs to analyse huge volumes of data to generate the insights that inform crucial adjustments to the car between test runs. In the past, that process had entailed weeks of waiting as hard drives filled with sensor data were sent to a regional supercomputer for analysis and results returned. But with Cortana Analytics Suite, the team gets the insight it needs in hours, instead of weeks.

Enabled by the Microsoft cloud, more than 30 sensors gather almost 12 million points of data and the team is processing over 2,000 measurements to obtain rapid results – giving them the insights they need in hours, instead of weeks. “With the results comes the confidence to go faster,” says Darren Grove, NAE computational fluid dynamics engineer. “When the data from the on-board sensors matches what the model says should be happening, we know we’re safe to push a little harder.”

The scope and capabilities of these implementations point to the power of the IoT to enable proactive, service-centric business models for manufacturers. From the factory floor, across the supply chain to the heart of a jet-powered car, the IoT is enabling organisations to make optimal use of their key strategic asset – the data that flows between people, systems and things.


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