Manufacturing with Microsoft solutions to innovate and transform

Companies around the world are working with Microsoft and its partners to empower themselves to thrive in a digitally transformed landscape

Jacqui Griffiths
By Jacqui Griffiths on 18 March 2020
Manufacturing with Microsoft solutions to innovate and transform

In Switzerland, a global manufacturer of machines for food processing and die-casting is transforming itself from a traditional industrial firm to a technology leader that can deliver a wide range of innovative services. The company is Bühler Group, and the technologies enabling its transformation are Azure cloud, the internet of things and artificial intelligence from Microsoft.

Bühler is just one example of how leading organisations are harnessing digital technologies to enable themselves to create new value for customers. On the food-processing side, the company helps businesses that are 90% efficient to boost their efficiency by a crucial 1-2%, potentially adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to their profits. A process that uses low-energy electrons to eliminate contaminants in food is just one of its recent innovations. And in die-casting, Bühler is working on the vision of the Digital Cell with the target of delivering zero scrap, 40% less cycle time and round-the-clock uptime. The first steps towards the Digital Cell vision are already implemented, with an initial focus on bringing a step change to the industry standard of a work stoppage every 40 minutes. That translates directly into money savings for foundries around the world. 

“Digitising is simply something we have to focus on,” says Stuart Bashford, chief digital officer at Bühler. “Whether it’s in food processing or die-casting, we’ve seen the competition turn into software companies that can offer cool new products to our customers. To remain competitive, we have to be in the digital game.”

It’s a reality that is reflected by future-focused firms across the industry. “Manufacturing, enabled by new technologies, is powering the growth of businesses and economies around the world,” says Colin Masson, global industry director, manufacturing solutions at Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise. “The companies that thrive will be those that can harness the power of their data for better decision-making, more efficient processes, and to develop the skills that enable their people to work and innovate at their best.”

At US multinational oil company Chevron, for instance, Microsoft Dynamics 365 and HoloLens are proving essential to supporting decision-making and innovation that enables reliable, safe and efficient operations – and competitive advantage against other refineries. Chevron uses Dynamics 365 Remote Assist for two core scenarios: Remote Expert, in which the company can put any expert anywhere in the world in under a minute; and Remote Inspection which enables its inspectors to examine the construction and the operations of a facility in real time – crucial for a company that has facilities across the world, including some in remote locations.

“Even a second of downtime is significant given the volume and scale these facilities operate on,” says Ed Moore, senior technology strategist at Chevron. “Out of the box solutions are important to Chevron because we simply don’t have the expertise to build those solutions and maintain them long term. HoloLens is another device we use just like our laptops or phones. It’s enabling us to do things that we couldn’t do in the past.”

Technology by itself won’t solve the challenges manufacturers and resources firms face. Rather, it provides the support they need to turn their struggles into strengths. Take skills development for example. “The biggest challenge facing manufacturers is attracting, training, and retaining the frontline workers they need to fuel, power and manufacture a better future,” says Masson. “A consistent issue is the growing skills gap in manufacturing, which is still top of mind for many CEOs.”

Commercial vehicle manufacturer PACCAR is no exception. “Every company struggles with training,” says Rob Branson, senior director, global technologies at PACCAR. “Products are much more complex, so how do you keep up?”

For PACCAR, the answer lies in putting people at the centre of an immersive training experience. The company uses HoloLens and Dynamics 365 Guides to help people quickly develop the skills they need for success.

“We see Guides and HoloLens as a great tool to change how we learn,” says Branson. “There’s video built in, step-by-step instructions, and you can overlay holographic images. It means you can be up to speed in a compressed timeframe.”

Branson sees this as a solution that can grow and change with the company’s needs. “Since Guides is built on a common platform within Microsoft, we see the ability to leverage things like electronic work instructions, data from our headcam systems and engineering, and integration into our parts manual,” he says. 

Companies that effectively leverage new technologies to enhance decision making, automate processes and upskill new and existing employees are delivering new value to customers and employees – and surging ahead of the competition. 

“The companies leading the field understand that people are at the core of digital transformation,” says Masson. “Technology is enabling radical changes in how companies innovate, make products and deliver services, and the business models they create. From the efficiencies gained by automating processes to the value-adding opportunities of remote monitoring and servicing, or the rapid upskilling enabled by immersive training, success is being built on the partnership of people with technology, and Microsoft is focused on helping companies achieve that.” 

This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issues delivered directly to your inbox.

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