Microsoft is displaying a concentrated focus on empowering manufacturing companies of all sizes by bringing together a broad array of cloud-based tools under its Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing, which was introduced in Preview in November. In recent years, the digital transformation of manufacturing, or Industry 4.0, promises to make the smart factory a reality. Here are five ways Microsoft is paving the way that are worth watching:
- Remote Manufacturing Operations using Dynamics 365 with HoloLens 2
- Accelerated Product Innovation with Azure Digital Twins
- Automated Quality Control using Azure AI
- Going Beyond Automation to Autonomous Systems with Project Bonsai
- Reducing Environmental Impact using Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability
Remote Manufacturing Operations using Dynamics 365 with HoloLens 2
One of the harsh realities of the global Covid pandemic is the risk involved with sending engineers or maintenance technicians onsite to solve manufacturing issues. Microsoft has created a set of impressive tools allowing a remote team to connect to the manufacturing plants via Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Dynamics 365 Guides through the HoloLens 2 mixed reality headset. They can then diagnose the problems using mixed-reality 3D annotations, thus avoiding equipment downtime, travel costs, and the risk of spreading Covid.
Accelerated Product Innovation with Azure Digital Twins
Azure Digital Twins is a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering that enables the creation of digital models of real-world environments. The platform connects to other Microsoft technologies, enabling the analysis of past behaviors, which can help predict future outcomes. Imagine a sandbox where possibilities for new products, manufacturing process optimization, and resource utilization can be rapidly, accurately tested before ever having to build anything in the real world. Digital Twins technology is one of the hottest ways manufacturing companies will benefit from cloud technology, and it is still early in its evolution. Microsoft’s commitment to this tech will help ensure its accessibility by manufacturing companies of all sizes.
Automated Quality Control using Azure AI and IoT
Azure AI and IoT services provide the capability to detect defects at the manufacturing line using image recognition and other parameters. Rather than performing quality control tests on finished goods, the quality inspection can be done in real-time using IoT sensors that feed data into Azure AI. That can then either alert staff to the problem so that they can address it or, in many cases, automatically adjust the manufacturing process to eliminate the defect before it ever becomes a problem requiring work stoppage.
Going Beyond Automation to Autonomous Systems with Project Bonsai
Automation has been an incredibly important technology for manufacturing in recent years. Automation teams have made repeatable tasks much more efficient and accurate by using programming processes to ensure that rules are followed effectively and jobs that used to require people can be done with little or no human interaction.
Autonomous systems, on the other hand, take automation to a higher level. By using compute scale, simulations, and AI training methodologies, the system can respond to dynamic circumstances and make intelligent decisions not previously possible through basic automation. Microsoft has a product called Project Bonsai, which is currently in Preview. Described as a “Low-code AI development platform for intelligent control systems,” it shows promise as a way to build autonomous systems in manufacturing using IA (Intelligent Automation).
By releasing this technology as a Preview, Microsoft is counting on teams all over the globe to try it out and help refine the tech before it becomes an official product. This also provides a fantastic way for small teams on a budget to get their hands on some very advanced technology.
Reducing Environmental Impact using Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability
Finally, Microsoft would not be meeting the challenges of cloud for manufacturing head-on without delivering a means to assist manufacturing companies to reduce their environmental impact. Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability is an “extensible software-as-a-service solution that helps you record, report, and reduce your organization’s environmental impact through automated data connections and actionable insights.”
Like other elements of Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing, the sustainability offering merges other well-documented Microsoft technologies such as IoT, AI, and mixed reality, helping manufacturers drive new levels of agility, safety, and sustainability through equipment optimization. Analytical tools give insights that help reduce emissions and carbon footprint. And optimizing manufacturing environments helps lead to responsible value chain practices.
Built on an Extensible, Integrated Cloud Ecosystem
Microsoft continues to lead the effort to revolutionize manufacturing by investing in advanced cloud technologies designed to work together. And which are scalable and thus accessible to manufacturing companies of all size and use user interface designs that are already familiar to most employees due to the prevalence of products like Power BI and Office 365.
Keep an eye on Microsoft, as they continue to roll out technologies that are changing the game for manufacturing in 2022!