Making sustainability central to manufacturing operations

Manufacturers are using cloud-enabled tools to put sustainability at the heart of efficient, collaborative operations. Microsoft’s Colin Masson tells us more

Elly Yates-Roberts
By Elly Yates-Roberts on 13 October 2021
Making sustainability central to manufacturing operations

Resilience and sustainability are two concepts that go hand-in-hand to define the new era of manufacturing. Sustainability is, after all, built on efficient use and reuse of resources across the product life cycle, from materials and processes to equipment and skills. And those same efficiencies are essential for manufacturers to respond quickly to changes in customer demand, inventory availability and regulatory requirements. This synergy between operational efficiency and environmental, social and governance agendas – which were once seen as separate issues – was brought home in the early days of the pandemic as supply chains faltered and market needs veered rapidly from seasonal expectations.

In the new reality that is emerging after more than a year of global disruptions, resilience and sustainability remain top of mind, says Colin Masson, global industry marketing director of manufacturing at Microsoft. “Digital transformation rapidly accelerated during the pandemic as manufacturers sought to work around the restrictions and meet changing demands,” he says. “Now, that ongoing transformation is structurally changing industries from retail to healthcare and manufacturing, all of which have had to find ways to ensure continued productivity that would support the economy and society.”

Across the industry, Microsoft’s collaboration with key manufacturers has resulted in outstanding sustainability outcomes. “A group of ‘lighthouse’ manufacturing companies, identified by the World Economic Forum (WEF), in collaboration with McKinsey & Company, are leading the way here,” says Masson. “For example, at one WEF Lighthouse Schneider Electric has reduced as much as 78 per cent of its carbon footprint using Industry 4.0 technologies and Microsoft Azure. And we have helped stainless steel manufacturer Outokumpu leverage artificial intelligence and Azure to increase output by 15 per cent while reducing quality defects by 40 per cent and cutting emissions. Customers have also showcased their ability to drive new product-as-a-service opportunities while addressing sustainability, such as Buhler Group with its food safety initiatives and Ecolab which is solving the world’s water challenges with Microsoft’s cloud technologies.”

A recent WEF report found that despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, 93 per cent of lighthouse sites increased their product output and found new revenue streams. For many, environmental sustainability was integral to that growth: 53 per cent are seeing ‘measurable and marked’ environmental sustainability benefits. “Measures yielding productivity improvements are actually driving resource efficiency gains tied to environmentally conscious impact,” the report notes. “Companies discovering this compatibility and making the most of it are realising dual benefits simultaneously: cost reduction and increased sustainability.”

Johnson & Johnson, a global manufacturer of medical devices, pharmaceutical products and consumer packaged goods, currently has more WEF Lighthouse factories than any other company. It recently achieved its first ever carbon dioxide-neutral facility by using smart energy management, automated systems and green technology installations at one of its biggest self-care product plants. At the same time, overall equipment effectiveness increased by 14 per cent thanks to the use of robotic apps, while using digital twins for product development simplified the supply chain, reducing the cost of goods by 20 per cent.

Having a real-time digital backbone that supports fast, connected data flow through everything the company does also meant that, as the pandemic hit, Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical arm was able to develop, test and scale up its Covid-19 vaccine from zero manufacturing to 100 million doses in the space of a quarter.

“If we’re not creating a cleaner environment, an environment that is more sustainable, then we’re not fulfilling our mission about improving healthcare and people’s lives around the world,” Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, told Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a recent interview. “It takes a holistic approach, fundamentally from the product’s design. At the very beginning, how are you thinking about the innovation for the product itself? How are you thinking about the packaging, about the distribution? Once it actually gets into the manufacturing facility – how are you thinking about resource utilisation, about the footprint, about the way it’s connected? What about the external suppliers that you’re connected to? How can you be working with them to create a much cleaner, a much greener entire ecosystem? And how can you do this in a way that’s not just looking at the next 10 weeks or 10 months, but in a way that is going to create a better 10 years or 10 decades?”

Microsoft is walking this path alongside its manufacturing customers, and its launch of the Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing is the latest step on this shared journey. “As a manufacturer ourselves, Microsoft is on a mission to be carbon neutral and water positive by 2030 and erase our carbon footprint by 2050,” says Masson. “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.”

Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing provides industry-focused solutions to seamlessly connect people, assets, workflow and business processes, supporting resilience, innovation and sustainability. “Bringing together released and new manufacturing capabilities on Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365, Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Power Platform, the Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing will empower manufacturing firms to accelerate pandemic recovery and create operational resiliency,” says Masson. “These are areas where we believe Microsoft and our partners can help manufacturers connect the dots across their operations, workforce, design and engineering processes, customer engagements, and the end-to-end value chain.”  

Partner perspectives
Leading manufacturers are deploying Industry 4.0 technologies to support sustainable innovation and growth. We asked selected Microsoft partners how they are using Microsoft products and services to help manufacturers ensure a sustainable future. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 140 of the digital edition of the Autumn 2021 issue of Technology Record.

Bill Green, vice president of solutions and product strategy at Adexa, said: “By leveraging Microsoft Azure cloud services, Adexa delivers hosted sales & operations planning and sales and operations execution solutions to plan for sustainability.”

Melissa Topp, senior director of global marketing at ICONICS, said: “ICONICS helps organisations collect telemetry data from sensors and equipment using Azure Digital Twins and Azure IoT Edge, then normalises and securely uploads it to Azure IoT Hub for visualisation and analysis.”

Sath Rao Director, smart connected operations of GTM and product marketing at PTC, said: “PTC’s Factory Insights as a Service offering and ThingWorx manufacturing applications provide insights into reducing rework, eliminating scrap, monitoring energy and equipment availability, enhancing uptime and enabling machines and people to work harmoniously to further sustainability goals.”

Ogi Stanovcic, general manager of cloud at Open Systems, said: “Open Systems MDR+, which has a Microsoft advanced specialisation, provides the capabilities and expertise that enterprises need to monitor and contain cyberthreats, eliminate the gaps created by too many silos and tools, and avoid costs associated with building and operating in-house security operations centres.”

Saar Yoskovitz, co-founder and CEO of Augury, said: “With Azure for Manufacturing, we will be able to fuse the customer’s operational data with our mechanical data and create unique offerings, going beyond reliability into quality optimisation and yield optimisation.”

Kim Custeau, senior vice president of APM and MES at AVEVA, said: “Together, AVEVA and Microsoft are accelerating digital transformation across the manufacturing sector and empowering global companies to shape a sustainable future.” 

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2021 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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