For the industrial sector, the impact of digital manufacturing technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) has been immense. Once dependent on inflexible supply chains, outdated machinery, and other rigid processes, industrial manufacturers now have access to intelligent tools and solutions designed to increase productivity, efficiency, and interoperability through enhanced connectivity and data access.
Therefore, it’s fitting that the lead theme for HMI 2018 is “Integrated Industry – Connect and Collaborate.” As the world’s premier industrial event, HMI gives manufacturers and business leaders from all over the globe the chance to learn about how the current digital transformation is revolutionizing manufacturing, as well as how they can benefit from it. In particular, there are three key trends now shaping the industry that attendees should look forward to exploring further.
#1: Enhancing productivity through connected IoT infrastructures
Manufacturing technologies—aided by advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), digitization, and more—have been making impressive improvements in recent years. However, their full impact will only be felt by manufacturers that are also taking advantage of IoT.
For example, modern industrial technology can give manufacturers granular control over both their modes of production and their larger supply chain. But with the intelligent infrastructure that IoT enables, manufacturers can go even further by gaining visibility into every step of their manufacturing process. This allows them to fine-tune production cycles, anticipate customer needs, optimize energy distribution, and more.
It’s not just about leveraging the sensors and industrial automation that have been powering factories for years. The pervasive use of IoT across smart cities and buildings, as well as connected vehicles and supply chains, is also enabling new intelligent workspaces to take advantage of ambient data—such as these Steelcase designs using infrared sensors and the Microsoft Azure IoT platform. In addition, investments in IoT infrastructures extend the visibility of manufactured products beyond the connected factory, making it possible to identify and solve problems preemptively, as well as providing customers with connected field services that enhance both the productivity of your service technicians and of the customer’s assets. What’s more, the combination of IoT with technologies such as mixed reality promises to shape the factories of the future. These different kinds of connectivity result in increased collaboration across the entire chain of production, sales, and services—as well as dramatically improved efficiency.
#2: Redefining the roles of manufacturers
In the past, manufacturers had to keep track of multiple variables during the production process to optimize operations and ensure everything was running smoothly. Due to the complexity and scale faced by today’s manufacturers, however, this has become increasingly difficult to do in real time. Fortunately, the integration of AI and IoT technology into the manufacturing process now makes it possible to attain deep insights into what is happening on the factory floor. For example, Jabil, one of the largest contract manufacturer in the world, now uses predictive analytics to identify errors or failures much earlier in the process—before they can be detected by quality tests or result in wasted materials and production capacity.
This level of sophistication is allowing manufacturers to transform their processes and deliver high-touch production-as-a-service solutions to their customers. Using open and secure standards such as OPC UA, data related to real-time manufacturing processes can now be streamed directly to the cloud, giving customers updates on everything from accurate inventory counts to the status of specific products or parts.
As IoT technologies continue to introduce advances to supply chains and reduce the distance between product and customer, expect manufacturers to assume even more responsibilities as they move from simple suppliers to full-fledged development partners.
#3: Creating new business opportunities with digitalization technology
According to Gartner, “digitalization” refers to “the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities.” For instance, advancements in cyber-physical systems, robots and cobots, and 3D printing are helping make digital manufacturing more agile. When this technology is paired with intelligent business apps capable of using IoT infrastructures to create a digital thread across the value chain, manufacturing leaders can discover transformative opportunities. IoT data, for example, can be combined with big compute to create digital twins of devices, products, and processes. This can provide new insights into customer needs, accelerate the delivery of new products and services, and improve the speed and efficiency of supply chains.
A notable development to come out of digitalization is the transformation of traditional manufacturing companies into digital platform vendors. While AI, machine learning, predictive maintenance, mixed reality, and other intelligent technologies have numerous beneficial applications in the manufacturing sector, many businesses have not yet implemented them due to the perceived costs of building out the necessary IT infrastructures. However, as more manufacturers create their own digital platforms to support their network of IoT devices, they are realizing they can further monetize these investments to enter new markets and deliver new products and services to other industries. A great example of this is SCADAfarm, an industrial IoT solution that helps farmers manage irrigation.
In effect, this trend is turning IoT-enabled manufacturing companies into software companies and giving them a new source of income. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, has even predicted that soon “every business will become a software business. [They will] build applications, use advanced analytics, and provide SaaS services.”
The digital transformation—enabled by IoT—is redefining manufacturing. Ensure your business keeps up by attending HMI 2018 to learn about the industry’s most exciting trends. While there, schedule a 1:1 meeting with a Microsoft consultant or security expert to talk about our end-to-end solutions and discover how we can help your business.