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Game-changing breakthroughs for manufacturers

Game-changing breakthroughs for manufacturers

How advances in intelligent manufacturing are enabling new levels of innovation for the industry

Elly Yates-Roberts |

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

Transformation in the manufacturing industry is about collaboration between people and technology. While advanced technologies can enable data-driven efficiency and innovation throughout the value chain, their success depends on the continued development of digital skill sets among new and existing workers.

Demographic pressures are adding to the problem as baby-boomers reach retirement age and misperceptions about the nature and security of manufacturing jobs deter younger workers from entering the industry. In fact, research by the Korn Ferry Institute has found that the global manufacturing industry could be more than 7.9 million workers short by 2030, with unrealised output exceeding US$607 billion. To find new efficiencies and unlock the talent they require, manufacturers need to connect teams across the value chain, provide a working environment that attracts new talent, and empower their people to develop the skills they need to deliver value. 

Increasingly, manufacturers now must effectively manage multiple complex data sets, leveraging the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), mixed reality and the cloud to enable collaboration between teams of people and between people and machines to support a product-as-a-service business model. “Immersive human-to-machine collaboration and advanced analytics are enabling specialists – from R&D to the production floor, to logistics and supply chain management – to prototype new designs faster and more affordably, build more useful products faster, and continually support meaningful customer experiences,” says Colin Masson, industry marketing director for Manufacturing at Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise. 

“Manufacturers can use the data coming in from IoT sensors, field service, sales, factories and the supply chain to speed innovation. With connected product innovation solutions, for example, you can get real-time insight into which products and features customers are using without waiting for customer survey results. And with big computing capacity available on demand, you can iterate the next version of your product much more rapidly using digital twins, as well as simulation and analysis tools. You can also get more accurate, timely data on which parts failed and what the best problem resolutions were so you can improve product and service performance.”

Digital twin technology is at the heart of this vision. It enables manufacturers to simulate and iterate through the end-to-end stages of design, production and service with a digital representation of the plant floor, supply chain and product lifecycle. In doing so, the technology can provide immersive experiences that support problem-solving and cross-team collaboration across multiple geographies, enabling people to develop new skills quickly and efficiently. Microsoft HoloLens stands out in this regard, bringing the digital twin concept to an immersive, personal level for each participant and enabling the creation of safe, flexible holographic training scenarios in the real world.

At BAE Systems, for example, PTC’s Thingworx Studio software was used to create a guided training solution for HoloLens to teach workers how to assemble a green energy bus battery. The mixed reality solution enabled the company to create new experiences for HoloLens within hours, simply by dragging and dropping its models and creating an immersive step-by-step guide to assembling the battery. The solution has empowered workers to get quickly up to speed. “You’re not looking at this in two dimensions any more on a screen that’s far away – it’s right in front of you,” says Jessica Shindler, operations associate at BAE Systems. “Using the HoloLens I was able to cut my assembly time in half. We can understand and we can learn so much faster, efficiently, and feel a part of this process.”

BAE Systems operations program manager, Shawn Atkinson, says the solution has dramatically increased the company’s production tempo, especially as it brought on new people. “HoloLens has really become beneficial in allowing us to train new people on this product, 30-40% more efficiently,” he says. “It’s the next step in the evolution of hi-tech manufacturing.”

Away from addressing the traditional manufacturing operational challenges, technology has an increasingly important role to play in career development, talent acquisition and management. With the global manufacturing skills gap set to widen, identifying and attracting up-and-coming talent is as important as skills development. Meeting new talent where it interacts – for instance on social media and professional networking sites – is a powerful first step on that journey. v

Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Talent integrates with LinkedIn, a professional network with more than 575 million users. This creates a 360-degree human resource management environment for onboarding, talent identification, targets and professional development for each employee, as well as functions like payroll, performance reviews and benefits. The solution exposes a rich data set that can by analysed using tools like Power BI, to help identify opportunities for increased efficiency and workforce optimisation. It’s helped companies like Insight Analytic Solutions – a joint venture between lubricant brand Castrol and Romax Technology’s InSight business, a predictive maintenance solutions provider – to support a rapidly growing HR function and global team. 

The issues of identifying, attracting and developing talent are intertwined with the creation of value for the business and its customers. By connecting people and processes across the organisation and using intelligent tools to enable immersive skills development and innovation, companies can provide an experience that is enriching, fulfilling and empowering for their people.

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