Optimisation through technology integration

Manufacturers are turning to Microsoft and its partners to help them integrate legacy and cutting-edge technology for real competitive advantage

Jacqui Griffiths
By Jacqui Griffiths on 11 March 2021
Optimisation through technology integration
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Manufacturing enterprises across the world are using cutting-edge technologies to deliver Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing initiatives. A seamless flow of data has become essential to achieving the agility, speed and transparency they need, and that means integrating operational technology (OT) with information technology (IT) across the enterprise.

“Advances in connectivity, big data, and the expansion of the internet of things (IoT) have opened the door for a new breed of intelligent manufacturing technology that is impacting both IT and OT,” says Colin Masson, global industry director manufacturing solutions at Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise. “Today, data-optimised smart machines can receive input from a wide range of sources – from customer order data to production data – to enable more agile manufacturing, improve production efficiency and provide greater visibility into operational performance. From supply chain management to the operations floor, data is now ubiquitous across the organisation, and that means IT and OT can no longer operate independently.”

Microsoft and its ecosystem of partners are uniquely positioned to support the Industry 4.0 vision. In South Korea, for instance, LS Electric is using Microsoft Azure IoT Edge to provide the real-time data processing it needs to deploy machine learning models effectively and enhance its smart factory capabilities. Within four months of deployment, the solutions helped the company to improve the test accuracy for its magnetic contactor production line by 80 per cent. As well as improving product quality the company reduced production line waste, improved customer satisfaction levels and increased profitability. In addition, it is now faster and easier for LS Electric’s people to do their jobs. They can develop new machine learning models for use on multiple production lines in about an hour, a process that used to take two to three days. LS Electric plans to use the same approach for other product lines, including developing deep learning algorithms for its machine inspection processes with Azure cloud services.

Meanwhile in Switzerland, industrial equipment manufacturer Bühler Group developed its Bühler Insights platform which uses Microsoft Azure Data Explorer to drive ambitious sustainability targets through its customers’ value chains. Customers connect their industrial equipment and automation software to the platform, enabling the daily transmission of millions of telemetry messages. They can then access and explore their technology data at a granular level using microservice application programming interfaces (APIs), with key performance indicators and benchmarks to help them to optimise production processes. As well as supplying the data its customers need to do their jobs better, the company can leverage data from across the world for advanced analytics, data science solutions, benchmarking and reference points. Using dashboards tailored to each person’s role, customers can achieve transparency into each of their production arms and focus on specific points in their processes, so they can see how and where to make improvements.

Smart manufacturing is not just about connecting people and systems. Leading Microsoft partners are helping manufacturers to harness advanced MR technologies that connect virtual and physical worlds, bringing new possibilities for collaboration, skills development and safe, productive work. “Whole new realms of product development efficiency become possible when companies implement the latest digital twin solutions and MR like Microsoft HoloLens,” says Masson. “This allows manufacturers to interact with their prototypes in dramatic new ways – at scale and in the context of the eventual customer use case. With this contextual view, they can more quickly move products from concept to completion. They can edit digital twins on the spot, share them with stakeholders via video calls or augmented reality, and quickly incorporate real-time feedback to accelerate the iterative development process.”

Theorem Solutions helps companies to visualise and share 3D product data in MR, using companies’ existing computer aided design (CAD) and product lifecycle management assets. Theorem has taken its years of knowledge and experience of working with 3D CAD and visualisation assets to leverage these in MR, creating a suite of visualisation solutions for engineering and manufacturing running on Microsoft’s HoloLens. These experiences enable users to upload 3D CAD data into HoloLens quickly and easily, allowing engineers and designers to experience their 3D data spatially, at full scale and in context, working collaboratively to undertake a range of everyday engineering tasks in MR. They enable organisations to reduce engineering and manufacturing costs, improve product quality and support the faster development of products and processes across the enterprise.

Knowing where and how best to apply this cutting-edge technology is the key to success. CraneMorley, a Microsoft Mixed Reality partner, specialises in providing training and design services to equip manufacturers with the tools they need to implement successful MR projects. It covers every level of expertise, including workshops to explore the possibilities and experience delivered by HoloLens 2, training and assistance to develop pilot and proof-of-concept projects, and continued learning and support to help implement projects for maximum impact.

In the fast-moving world of smart manufacturing, successful IT/OT integration has become a prerequisite for competitive business. And as companies connect systems that previously stood alone to create new value, they also need to know that their data will be secure. “Industry 4.0 endeavours like IoT are about enabling a digital feedback loop where data can be synchronised between employees, operations, products and customers,” says Masson. “It’s essential that businesses integrating their OT and IT systems implement well defined standards that scale across their network to ensure data and intellectual property security.”

Microsoft’s commitment to security, combined with the industry expertise of its partners, means that manufacturers of all sizes can integrate their systems with confidence. “Modern manufacturing requires secure and intelligent operations and connected supply chains to deliver more agile production, greater transparency and smarter products and services,” says Masson. “We’re making it easier for manufacturers to securely integrate IT and OT with tools such as Azure IoT Connected Factory to connect machines in the company’s own factories using OPC Unified Architecture, or Dynamics 365 Connected Field Service for connecting their customers’ machines into their business systems. For smaller manufacturers who want a fully managed service for IoT, we’ve introduced IoT Central, which makes it easy to connect, monitor, and manage IoT assets at scale. These tools are assisting businesses of all sizes in their Industry 4.0 initiatives and with Azure IoT Security Center we’re helping customers keep their data secure.”

Partner perspectives
Manufacturing firms are successfully integrating information and operational technology to create new value. We asked selected Microsoft partners how they are leveraging the latest technologies to help companies deliver on their smart manufacturing strategies. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 108 of the digital edition of the Winter 2020 issue of The Record.

William Wappler, president and CEO of Surgere, says: “Surgere uses Microsoft Azure to provide cloud-based inventory and asset visibility for manufacturers.”

Melissa Topp, senior director of global marketing at ICONICS, says: “ICONICS combines its universal connectivity with its wide range of Microsoft solution integration to cover manufacturers’ OT and IT requirements for data visualisation, rapid archiving/retrieval, advanced analysis, mobilisation and cloud integration.”

Mark Stowe, chief technology officer at Theorem Solutions, says: “Being able to visualise their 3D design data loaded into a real-world environment, using the Theorem-XR suite and Microsoft HoloLens, helps manufacturing and service engineers to close the cognitive gap.”

Nicholas Berger, mixed reality lead at CraneMorley, says: “With a focus on Dynamics 365 Guides and Remote Assist our team of experts will work to analyse and understand what problems your organisation is trying to solve and develop a custom solution that is ready to be deployed and start impacting performance.”

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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