When we think about what it takes to build a successful business, there were three main eras which characterized important shifts in the global marketplace. The first was the industrial revolution when people began to mass produce and distribute goods with tremendous scale and efficiency. Since everyone received information at the same time and speed was not an issue, change wasn’t particularly fast. What followed was the Information Age where people weren’t just using technology to drive production efficiencies, they were using it to drive information efficiencies. During this time, competitive advantage began to shift to our access to information. Today, information and data are ubiquitous which has had a tremendous effect on both our digital work and life experiences. The world has formed a giant network where everyone has access to anyone and everything. Some people refer to this as the Connected Age.
However, the ubiquity of data and connected devices, coupled with important advances in machine learning, are powering a new set of capabilities called the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is now at the forefront of a fourth era in business productivity. With IoT, companies worldwide are transforming the way they plant crops, assemble goods and maintain machinery. Now, several Microsoft customers and partners, including Fujitsu, KUKA Robotics, and Miele, are announcing IoT initiatives that will change the way people live and work.
IoT’s influence on those companies and many others is on display this week at the large industry fair Hannover Messe, where the term “Industry 4.0” was first coined. Everywhere we look there are examples of physical assets integrated with processes, systems and people, and exciting possibilities are being fueled by this transformation.
At this event, Microsoft is showing how we’re helping manufacturers innovate, bring products to market more quickly and transform into digital businesses. Aided by unlimited compute power and rich data platforms, the creation of “systems of intelligence” that enable reasoning over vast amounts of data are empowering individuals and organizations with actionable insights.
Some of the really innovative things our customers are doing include:
Blending physical with digital
One thing that will become clear this week: IoT is cutting across a wider range of industries than we’ve seen in the past. Fujitsu is bringing together its Eco-Management Dashboard, IoT/M2MP platform, Microsoft cloud services, and Windows tablets in a way that can enable managers, engineers, and scientists to improve product quality, streamline systems, and enhance functionality while reducing costs. For example, at its facility in Aizu Wakamatsu, Japan, Fujitsu is able to grow lettuce that is both delicious and low in potassium so that it can be consumed by dialysis patients and people with chronic kidney disease. They can track all of the plant info from their Windows tablets through the cloud. These solutions will also be able to help other agriculture and manufacturing companies transform their businesses through innovation.
Advancements like this have a lot to do with machine learning going mainstream. Artificial intelligence is no longer a fantastic vision for the future — It is happening today. KUKA is a great example of a company making something that was formerly science fiction come alive. This leading manufacturer of industrial robots and automation solutions is using the Microsoft IoT platform to create one of the world’s first showcases that blends IT with robotic technologies into a smart manufacturing solution with new capabilities.
KUKA is showcasing their Intelligent Industrial Work Assistant (LBR iiwa), a sensitive and safe lightweight robot together with Microsoft in a smart factory solution. Using precise movements and sensor technology, the robot is able to perceive its surroundings way around a complex task like performing the delicate action of threading a tube into a small hole in the back of a dishwasher. Errors in the supply chain are addressed in real time through Windows tablets, making the automated process faster and easier. Through this demonstration, KUKA is highlighting how its LBR iiwa can collaborate with humans to jointly perform the task as peers working together without being controlled by a human or using a vision system.
Connecting and communicating
Toyota is piloting the use of technology to streamline communication and collaboration among its many worldwide business groups. Toyota expects that by implementing Office 365 and PPI screens in offices around the world, employees will be more efficient and empowered to collaborate around the world, which will in turn help improve vehicle quality while reducing costs.
Miele, a leading manufacturer of high-end domestic appliances, is working with Microsoft to change the way we cook. Users can browse recipes on Miele’s website and choose from various meals. With the selection of a recipe, the necessary food preparation stages are downloaded to the user’s smartphone or tablet, and the matching program is loaded onto the oven through Azure. The oven is programed to cook the specific meal using the proper operating mode, temperature, cooking time, humidity and other factors, taking out guesswork and promising great results.
ThyssenKrupp is using IoT technology to increase the reliability of its elevators. Using Microsoft Azure Machine Learning, ThyssenKrupp is establishing a new preventive maintenance system that lets engineers access real-time data to prevent elevator breakdowns. Elevators can also provide condition reports that alert engineers to potential issues.
Smarter, faster vehicles and new customer experiences
Today, only 20 percent of vehicles are connected, but in the next 3-4 years that number is expected jump to around 80 percent. The connected car experience is the future of the automotive industry — offering new revenue streams and changing the relationship between automakers and drivers.
With the power of cloud computing, data analytics and intelligent devices, automakers can deliver personalized consumer experiences. Chinese automaker Qoros offers an advanced vehicle telematics system that taps into Microsoft Azure to provide communications, entertainment and location-based services anywhere in the world. Recently, Qoros announced their Qloud 2.0 Concept, which is the next generation in their telematics technology .
The Lotus F1 Team has deployed a Microsoft Dynamics AX ERP solution that enables them to fine tune every aspect of their business, from the design, manufacturing and testing of 20,000-plus parts on each car, to analyzing real-time data from the racetrack. Now they’re planning to use data from their telemetry system for predictive analytics, leveraging machine learning to gain insight for their cars’ continued development.
Eyeing physical assets through a digital lens
With all of these companies, real transformation is happening because they’re looking at things through a new, digital lens. Not only are they figuring out how to connect line-of-business assets with other data streams, systems and processes, they are also realizing business value while speeding return on their investment.
For companies trying to understand how this approach can help, look at the infrastructure you already have. How can these assets become connected and intelligent? What kind of data would help to reduce cost, or increase agility? How can you use insights to grow revenue in existing operations, or offer those insights to customers and create new revenue streams?
The focus here is on transforming existing business models and adding cloud-connected services. In the age of Industry 4.0, manufacturing and resource companies will no longer compete over the products and features they offer, but on new business models they can either pursue themselves or offer to customers.
The fourth industrial revolution is here. To learn more, I invite you to check out the stories coming out of Hannover Messe this week. And be sure to read how Windows devices drive productivity and innovation in industrial manufacturing.