You can’t spell acceleration without AI: a discussion with Dominik Wee

You can’t spell acceleration without AI: a discussion with Dominik Wee

The Microsoft executive talks about the transformative role of AI in the manufacturing and mobility industries

Andy Clayton-Smith |

Energising a sustainable industry. That’s the collective goal of more than 4,000 companies across the manufacturing, energy and digital sectors that are meeting at the industrial trade fair Hannover Messe, in April 2024. From powerful assistants to data platforms that summarise and contextualise factory data, automotive and manufacturing companies are investing in innovative artificial intelligence-powered tools to achieve this.  

Dominik Wee, corporate vice president for manufacturing and mobility at Microsoft, explains how Microsoft and its partners are driving improvements in factory efficiencies and sustainable operations.  

What does your current role entail?  

I joined Microsoft in September 2022. As the corporate vice president for manufacturing and mobility, I take care of our business in these industry sectors. Manufacturing focuses on everything that gets made, while mobility is about everything that takes people from point A to point B. It is an interesting and quite heterogeneous mix of industries, which is something I find very exciting. 

What can we expect to see from Microsoft when it exhibits at Hannover Messe? 

We are excited to show how the manufacturing sector is moving from talking about AI to applying it at scale to drive new benefits and productivity gains. Attendees can expect us to showcase how Microsoft products and services, and those from our partners, are helping manufacturers to infuse AI across the manufacturing value chain to accelerate product development cycles, improve efficiency in the factory, operationalise sustainability across supply chain and service, and empower every employee in the enterprise to make data-driven decisions.  

Enterprises can only harness the benefits of AI if they have a strong data foundation, so we’ll discuss how we are helping companies build that foundation by bridging the IT/operational technology (OT) gap. We will have customers with us showcasing how they are already deploying this technology, what benefits they have gained from it and what lessons they have learned along the way. I would like to use this opportunity to invite your readers to join us at the show. 

Hannover Messe

Deutsche Messe/Rainer Jensen

Generative AI is foremost in the minds of industry leaders right now. What strategies has Microsoft developed to help customers leverage AI-powered tools in both the manufacturing and mobility spaces? Where is the greatest uptake by customers? 

Organisations are making an average return of $3.5 for every $1 they invest in AI, according to IDC’s 2023 The Business Opportunity of AI report. And it’s only taking 14 months for these companies to start seeing a return on their AI investments.  

We’ve built AI capabilities into the Microsoft Cloud solutions customers are already using today, helping every employee across the manufacturing enterprise – including those responsible for product design, engineering, and factory, supply chain, service and business operations – to be more productive, creative, efficient and innovative.  

We’re also making it easy for any organisation to build and extend AI capabilities into new and existing applications and copilot solutions by using the same open ecosystem stack and AI services Microsoft used to build our own copilots. We are working with leading manufacturing ecosystem partners such as AVEVA, Cognite, Tulip, PTC, Schneider Electric, Siemens, Sight Machine, and many others, to bring copilot experiences to life.  

One of the biggest areas of opportunity for AI is within product development. Bringing new and innovative products to market is harder than ever before, with things like competitive pressure, new customer expectations and regulatory requirements. And while software integration in almost every hardware product adds capabilities, it can also make the product development cycle longer rather than shorter. Customers are always asking how they can reduce their development time. Generative AI provides an entirely new set of answers to this question. For example, companies using GitHub Copilot, our longest-standing generative AI product, at scale see a 55 per cent productivity increase among their developers, which is game-changing. General Motors, for instance, has integrated GitHub Copilot into its development cycles and accelerated much of the boilerplate process to get them 98 per cent of the way complete with code. 

Where does Microsoft’s ecosystem of partners add value to the work you’re engaged with? 

Microsoft partners are a critical component of our work in the manufacturing sector; this is especially true when companies are looking for transformation in product development, and engineering and OT functions. We are working with leading independent software vendors (ISVs) in the manufacturing industry to infuse AI in their offerings, such as the work we have done with Siemens on the Siemens Industrial Copilot, a generative AI-powered assistant designed to enhance human-machine collaboration and boost productivity. Leading automotive supplier Schaeffler is an early adopter and is seeing strong benefits. Also, the Siemens Teamcenter application for Microsoft Teams with Azure OpenAI service accelerates innovation across the product lifecycle.  

Another example is our collaboration with Sight Machine, which has enabled Intertape Polymer Group to create a data-first platform to contextualise and house all plant data and make it accessible to everyone – from users on the shop floor to executives. This has unlocked hundreds of use cases to improve productivity and efficiency.  

We are also working with Rockwell Automation to deliver industry-first capabilities with Azure OpenAI Service and FactoryTalk Design Studio to accelerate time-to-market for customers building industrial automation systems.  

Sight Machine

Sight Machine

Manufacturers can use Sight Machine’s Manufacturing Data Platform to oversee factory data

How is Microsoft aligning itself to play a key role in driving the journey towards more resilient and sustainable manufacturing operations across the industry? 

Sustainability is a top priority for Microsoft, and we are dedicated to steering the path toward more robust and sustainable manufacturing processes. That’s why we offer solutions like Sustainability Manager which enables organisations to monitor and manage their environmental impact with unified data, gain actionable insights and prepare for upcoming reporting requirements and regulations. I would like to share some customer examples of how we are helping manufacturers on this journey.  

Denmark-based FLSmidth, a provider of equipment and service solutions to the mining and cement industries, is using Microsoft Sustainability Manager to reach zero emissions and zero waste by 2030. It is using the solution to establish emissions baselines, set incremental goals and track progress to build new sustainability solutions for customers.  

OSTP Group, a Nordic manufacturer of steel tubes, pipes and fittings, worked with Microsoft partner Fellowmind to build a Microsoft Sustainability Manager-based solution for carbon dioxide data gathering and reporting. With automated reporting and AI-driven analytics, OSTP can spend less time collecting data and more time analysing progress toward its goal of carbon neutrality by 2025.  

We are also working with our partners to extend our solutions to meet customers where they are on their sustainability journeys. For example, Cognite’s AI-based Cognite Data Fusion platform, together with Microsoft Sustainability Manager, leverages Azure OpenAI Service to help businesses make informed decisions and take action with simulation-based decision support. And the results are impressive: organisations have experienced an impressive 10-fold increase in workflow efficiency. 

Deloitte’s 2024 manufacturing industry outlook reveals that the manufacturing sector was in contraction for most of 2023. Assuming this to be the case, where do you believe technology will drive real growth in this coming year and how will Microsoft help boost sector recovery? 

Growth is two-fold: it is about improving the bottom line by making operations more productive and efficient, and also about helping manufacturers to improve the top line by supporting their sales teams. Both can be accomplished with the latest technologies such as AI, machine learning and automation. In fact, I recently visited customers in Japan, and it was interesting to see how much interest there is in generative AI. This is partly because AI can help overcome challenges such as labour shortages. 

We are working very closely with leading ISVs in the manufacturing ecosystem to help make their offering more efficient with cloud and AI, which will help manufacturers navigate these challenging times and emerge stronger than ever.  

Our solutions and services are designed to help manufacturers increase efficiency, resilience and innovation across the manufacturing value chain. Under the banner of the Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing we deliver capabilities that support manufacturers to bring compelling new products to market quickly and continuously optimise their operations by using data in a scalable and interoperable way, and infusing AI across workflows to supercharge productivity. 

Finally, what are your thoughts on the year ahead in manufacturing and mobility? 

We are experiencing one of the most exciting and technologically advanced eras in the industry with the explosion of AI. It has, and will, continue to change our world in ways we never thought possible. Our job here at Microsoft is to make AI accessible to everyone, in a safe and trusted way. We’re focused on helping manufacturing and mobility companies to adopt AI holistically. AI maturity comes down to mastering a set of key capabilities in the right combinations, not just in data and AI, but also in organisational strategy, talent and culture. 

It is truly a transformational time and I’m excited to see how our customers and partners will leverage AI to create a more agile, informed and collaborative world.  

This article was originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription. 

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