Microsoft technology is driving automotive productivity

By empowering workforces with Microsoft solutions, automotive organisations will be able to deliver successful digital transformation

Alex Smith
By Alex Smith on 14 April 2021
Microsoft technology is driving automotive productivity

With the development of electric, connected and autonomous vehicles, the automotive workforce is facing new levels of complexity. Carmakers are equipping their workforces with new technologies to address this challenge and take advantage of the new opportunities digital transformation is creating.

One of these opportunities is found in the ever-increasing amount of data available to businesses, which has the potential to offer valuable insights on how they can improve their operations. Yet to leverage their newly acquired data effectively, organisations will have to rethink their approach to handling and sharing it.

“Automotive companies come from a traditional way of working, organised in silos,” says Juergen Imhoff, senior digital advisor for Microsoft. “But it’s a tradition that’s hindering the workforce from improving their performance. Today, the most significant inefficiencies are driven by the front-line workforce not being able to access back-end systems and data, which they need to be more effective.”

To address this crucial inefficiency, automotive organisations can make use of Microsoft Azure to reimagine the way in which they handle their data. By creating a single data lake, powered by Microsoft Azure, organisations can use both built-in and third-party services to generate insights into their operations. By giving workers easier access to these insights, it becomes possible for them to identify ways in which to improve their productivity.

“Once you’re able to use all the data you have to hand in one common data lake, the opportunity is immense,” says Imhoff. “A lot of people identify Microsoft Azure as a cloud platform, but it has an extensive range of value-add services on top of that, including IoT, streaming services and artificial intelligence. Automotive organisations can leverage these Azure services to make the most of their data, using all of the knowledge at their disposal to draw better and more productive conclusions.”

The benefits of cloud services can also extend into the design and testing of new and innovative vehicles. Effective use of data is key, for example, in the development of autonomous vehicles. FEV Europe has developed a mini data logger that records all of the sensor data on-board autonomous test vehicles, sending signals via mobile radio to a software solution based on Microsoft Azure. An algorithm running in the Azure environment monitors these signals, continuously searching for indications of critical driving situations. Only data which contains these critical situations is then stored in costlier and permanently available storage, flagged for engineer interest, or processed at higher priority, while raw data can be stored in a cheaper archive. 

“We never considered developing our own cloud infrastructure, due to the time and resources required,” said Dr Thomas Hülshorst, group vice president of intelligent mobility/electrification for FEV Europe. “What we sought was a professionally operated, turnkey environment. We ultimately opted for Azure, because the platform – with services such as IoT Hub or Stream Analytics – provides precisely the functions that are so crucial for the data logger project.”

Microsoft is also helping automotive organisations to improve the efficiency of their communication and collaboration with the Microsoft 365 suite of products. Familiar tools such as Office, PowerPoint and Word are included within the suite, but newer tools include Microsoft Teams, which has helped to enable secure remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to a 2019 report by Forrester Consulting titled The Total Economic Impact of Microsoft Teams, an organisation that made Teams available to 5,000 workers would see savings of $30.3 million, with time savings of up to four hours per week for information workers resulting from improved collaboration capabilities. 

These capabilities will be enhanced by the announcement of Microsoft Viva, an employee experience platform which integrates with the productivity capabilities in Microsoft 365 and Teams, delivering a unified experience across four key areas: engagement, well-being, learning and knowledge. Modules for Microsoft Viva will include Viva Connections, which will provide a personalised gateway for access to internal communications and resources, and Viva Learning, which aggregates all the learning resources available to an organisation in one place. A network of partners will provide integrations with the platform, while services partners such as Accenture, Avanade, PwC and EY will provide consulting and advisory services to customers using Microsoft Viva.

“We have participated in the largest at-scale remote work experiment the world has seen, and it has had a dramatic impact on the employee experience,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. “Every organisation will require a unified employee experience from onboarding and collaboration to continuous learning and growth. Viva brings together everything an employee needs to be successful from day one in a single, integrated experience directly in Teams.”

Another of the technologies making a particular impact on the automotive workforce is mixed reality, with Microsoft HoloLens 2 offering new capabilities to automotive organisations. HoloLens can be used to deliver training to workers as they learn the complex systems and processes that go into producing a vehicle, while designers can visualise and share vehicle concepts in virtual 3D models. An organisation’s expertise can also be more efficiently used through remote assistance enabled by a HoloLens headset, as Imhoff explains.

“An example of the power of HoloLens is in the installation of production machines, which are now very complex and expensive,” he says. “We work with a company from Switzerland that has machines installed in more than 120 countries. For them, it does not make financial sense to place trained engineers in every single country. With HoloLens, a very skilled engineer thousands of miles away at the headquarters in Switzerland can be put in contact with a worker at the site, walking them through the repair and sales cycle.”

As the automotive industry enters a period of disruption and innovation driven by digital transformation, the need for efficiency and productivity will become greater than ever. Developments in automotive are set to bring change the way that people move, and enabling their workforces to keep up with the swift pace of innovation will be important in enabling automotive companies to take advantage of the new possibilities.

“Automotive today is touching so many other aspects of our daily lives,” said Imhoff. “Where once the industry was a known ecosystem, today it’s expanding into a wide array of areas such as autonomous vehicle fleets, logistics, charging infrastructures and more. It’s really becoming more about the wider discussion of mobility, and how we will define mobility in the future. The improvement in productivity is part of the journey towards realising this vision of emerging mobility services.”

Efficient transformation
With the automotive industry set to undergo a period of dramatic change in the coming years, we asked Kognitiv Spark how they are helping automotive companies to boost their productivity with Microsoft HoloLens. 

“By using RemoteSpark on HoloLens, automotive organisations, whether they’re an OEM, manufacturer, or a supplier organisation, can enable the seamless flow of task-relevant knowledge throughout their organisations,” said Rodney McAffee, vice president of industrial engineering at Kognitiv Spark. “This industrial remote support system allows front-line workers to call expert resources when they need assistance solving a complex problem. Experts can transfer task-relevant assets to the workers which then appear as holograms in the workers realworld environment. 

By combining shared voice and video guidance from the expert and task-supporting 3D assets, automotive workers can easily understand the problem and how to fix it. On average, RemoteSpark clients can reduce maintenance and inspection related travel between 60 per cent and 75 per cent and reduce equipment downtime by 30 per cent. 

By plugging RemoteSpark into Azure Remote Rendering, workers can interact with digital designs of vehicles or equipment in full-fidelity 3D, a format intuitively understood by the human brain. What this translates to for workers is less time spent bent over and parsing through 2D drawings of instructions, equipment, or through physical manuals and more time getting their jobs done.”

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

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