Building a better future for manufacturers: Industry 4.0

We are living in revolutionary times for the manufacturing industry. Industry 4.0 is digitally transforming everything around us, right now.

With connected technology, advanced analytics and mixed reality simulation with technologies like HoloLens, our factories will never look the same, with 40% of operational processes becoming self-healing and self-learning by 2022.

With sustainable uses of resources, safer maintenance cycles, and empowered employees, customer service will be improved, and customer feedback will shape the products we sell, buy and use in our everyday lives. Put simply, Industry 4.0 will not only be better for manufacturers, but it will also be better for all businesses, employees, and customers.

Our growing number of connected devices creates vast amounts of data. Across all sectors, we’ve seen businesses investing in the equipment and software that allows this information to flow between different platforms, people, and business processes to create new data-based revenue streams and systems.

This is especially true in manufacturing, where advances in connected things, big data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can turn pre-programmed task-based machines into collaborative robots or “cobots” that interact with people and adapt to changing needs in production. Technology like this allows all manufacturers, no matter their size, to access information that helps them deliver truly transformational advancements for those who are willing to take the technological leap.

Making downtime a thing of the past
If a factory machine breaks down, every hour it isn’t working means lost revenue. Typically when something breaks, a specialist engineer from the supplier would be called, and it always takes longer than expected to get someone on-site to fix the problem.

This is as true for a factory production line as it is for a broken tap in an office, as the unexpected downtime of one piece of equipment can impact productivity for the business as a whole. But by embedding Industry 4.0, technologies such as sensors and analytics into machinery, manufacturers can actually predict when a breakdown is coming – and stop it becoming an issue for customers.

Grundfos is a Danish water pump manufacturer that uses advanced intelligence to do just this. Data collected by the pumps is stored and analysed on Microsoft Azure, a cloud service which helps them accurately predict when maintenance will be required. If a Grundfos pump starts to deteriorate in an office heating system, for example, building staff are immediately notified and can schedule maintenance from Grundfos at a convenient time – so no employees are left without heating when they need it most.

Empowering employees
The benefits of digital transformation also extend to manufacturers’ employees, allowing them to save time and offer more personalised and expert support to customers.

Sandvik Coromant is a Swedish manufacturer that produces machines and tools for the global metalworking industry. Using Azure and Cortana Intelligence, Sandvik Coromant digitized years of in-depth knowledge on their products onto one platform that can be accessed by any employee. When a customer has an issue with their machine, they call Sandvik and with the help of this platform, every support technician is an instant expert who can provide high-quality, personalised advice. With this knowledge at their fingerprints, employees spend less time diagnosing the problem, resulting in a much quicker fix.

Technology like this “will not replace the operator” believes Nevzat Ertan, Chief Enterprise Architect and Senior Manager at Sandvik Coromant, “but will give the operator another tool to improve production.”

Facilitating collaboration
As more industries embrace the collaborative power of Industry 4.0, it will become easier to align efforts to create “digital ecosystems” and connected intelligent systems across all parts of the supply chain that drive true business efficiency, productivity and innovation.

Belgian dredging company Deme, known best for creating the Palm islands in Dubai, partnered with Microsoft to build a platform around this very principle. Microsoft Surface devices including the Surface Hub are now standard at Deme, enabling easier communications across the business. All critical business applications are also supported by Microsoft technology, including Azure and Office 365, making it easier to collaborate via the cloud and optimize business outcomes. For Deme, better collaboration ensured that they had the edge they needed to stay competitive with the engineering sector.

Industry 4.0 is transforming the manufacturing industry. It is empowering manufacturers to be more cost-effective, and more environmentally sustainable. Microsoft is committed to bringing the technology to bear that helps manufacturing customers and partners unlock data and create systems of intelligence that improve the way people live and work and ultimately deliver better, more innovative products and services to the world.

To find out more about Microsoft’s vision for Industry 4.0 and digitally transformed manufacturing, click here.

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