Technology Record - Issue 32: Spring 2024

104 INTERVIEW “Working with Microsoft partner Accenture, Avanade assisted Mars in reducing its costly giveaways, which is when too much product is accidentally put into bags,” says Mislin. “We found that the calibration of the Mars industrial scales drifted every few days, which might cause problems for retailers who buy on a weight rather than unit price basis. We developed a digital twin of the production line to predict and alert a person on the factory floor.” The solution reduced giveaways by 80 per cent, saving Mars significant amounts of money per year. The firm was also able adopt closedloop automation where the system no longer requires an engineer to approve recalibrations, saving them time and allowing them to focus on value-added activities. Avanade worked with Volvo Cars to develop an environmental impact measurement tool, based on the Microsoft sustainability suite of solutions, that’s being used globally as part of their mission to be carbon neutral by 2040. Automotive firms need to be able to integrate and translate data from multiple sources into actionable insights in real time. The new tool enables data to be gathered from Volvo’s 200 non-manufacturing facilities, 2,500 retailers and manufacturing facilities. By delivering reporting across heating systems and wastewater, datadriven decisions can be made to drive down the environmental impact and carbon footprint. “Manufacturers can use similar technology to understand their whole ecosystem of operations. A digital twin model can oversee all processes and predict a manufacturer’s environmental performance and offer recommendations for materials and parts to help it meet its sustainability goals.” Design, build and support Manufacturers can use generative AI to improve operations across the design, make and service process of creating a product. Traditionally, the design stage for a product can take up to several months, but generative AI helps to reduce this time-frame significantly. “We build generative AI solutions that run directly within a customers’ infrastructure to generate very innovative and iterative designs in an instant,” says Mislin. “Users can give the system prompts like ‘I want a new prototype of the product and I want it to be five per cent smaller than the previous model’, and it can create hundreds of possibilities within minutes. This supports the creative process by providing customisable product prototypes quickly and effectively.” Similarly, if a machine is down during production, businesses can use generative AI to fix the problem. “PLCs were built with coding that is no longer commonplace,” explains Mislin. “To find a bug on the factory floor, employees can copy and paste the PLC coding into a generative AI-powered system. It can identify what the coding is designed to do and find any bugs. What’s more, generative AI can then write code to help solve the problem and catch similar issues in the future, saving engineers time and providing relevant, real-world training resources.” Additionally, manufacturers need to provide customer support for their products once they’ve been designed and produced and are in customers’ hands – from both a customer contact centre and field services perspective. Generative AI can provide succinct, insightful recommendations, drawing on previous cases. Frontline workers are able to access the collective intelligence of their entire organisation to help customers resolve problems faster. An aging workforce These technologies can really help to lift the burden of work for staff. The Manufacturing Institute predicts that there will be 2.1 million unfulfilled manufacturing jobs by 2030. Mislin attributes this to a mismatch in skills in an era where we are still at the early stages of layering on digital world on top of a physical world. “The younger generations are digital natives and want to use these skills when they get into factories which tend to run on older technologies. This creates an uncomfortable environment for them to work in,” says Mislin. “But new solutions, like generative AI, are exciting tools that can bridge the gap between OT and IT environments, helping the industry to overcome this problem and bridging gaps in areas like legacy PLC coding. As the older workforce retires, manufacturers will need to invest in technology like augmented reality and virtual reality headsets and systems to train their new workforce quickly and effectively. Avanade has helped an industrial equipment manufacturer to do this.