Adaptive Learning for Factories and Businesses

April 27, 2016
Microsoft continues its focus on bringing cloud services, Big Data analytics, and business intelligence to industrial companies of all sizes with an increasing number of real world successes.

Following up on the big splash it made at Hannover Messe last year with its focus on the Internet of Things (IoT), Microsoft followed up at this year’s event with more detailed—and advanced—real world industrial IoT applications to bolster its stance in the market. (See my report on Microsoft at Hannover Messe 2015.)

Kicking off Hannover Messe 2016 as one of the featured speakers during the opening ceremony’s Economic Forum, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pointed out that the relationship between digitalization and manufacturing—the underlying theme of Hannover Messe 2016—is nothing new. Considering the industry’s use of digital technologies such as MRP, ERP and CRM systems stretches back more than two decades, “manufacturing has driven information technology as much as any other industry,” he said.

What’s new today is that the things being produced are, for the first time, connected to the web of activity around them. Nadella added that it’s not just the fact that these products are connected that makes them interesting, but that data from these products can be fed back into the operations that produce them. “This feedback loop is the new inflection point of business, technology and manufacturing,” he said. “There is no longer a separation between what’s industrial and what’s digital. This bringing together of IT and OT is pervasive and changes how you engage with customers, empower employees, adapt business models and transform your products.”

Microsoft’s expansive booth at Hannover Messe highlighted numerous real-world IoT examples using the company’s Azure cloud services and Stream Analytics. Three examples stood out from an industrial perspective: 1) Rolls-Royce tracking of its more than 13,000 engines in operation worldwide to drive better performance of the engines and provide insight to airlines on how to improve efficiency and maintenance; 2) Jabil’s use of IoT to make its factory floor an adaptive learning system; and 3) Integration of OPC UA with the Azure IoT Suite to allow for sending of OPC UA telemetry data to the Azure cloud, as well as the remote command and control of OPC UA devices from the Azure cloud.

If the “command and control” portion of point number three above gave you pause, prepare yourself for a coming wave of remote control enablement in industry. For years now when discussions centered on remote access, the caveat from suppliers to calm security fears was that remote access communication went in only one direction, i.e., outward from the device. You can see just about any piece of data associated with that device you might ever want to see—even real-time feeds. But rest assured, it could not be controlled remotely.

At Hannover Messe 2016, I encountered a few instances where suppliers openly referenced the ability to not just view data remotely, but potentially control the device itself. Security concerns, they stressed, are being addressed through embedded chip level security, OPC UA security, as well as tiered IT security architectures. At the OPC UA display in the Microsoft booth, the simple but effective command and control demonstration allowed for remote control of a hair dryer using OPC UA and Azure IoT services.

Read more about the work Microsoft is doing with OPC UA as well as several other OPC Foundation announcements from Hannover Messe .

Since it’s becoming increasingly common to hear about large company deployments of cloud-based services and Big Data analytics, I asked Caglayan Arkan, general manager of worldwide manufacturing and resources at Microsoft, about the feasibility of these services and technologies for small to medium-sized companies. He noted that Beckhoff is bringing 450 such companies to the Microsoft booth at Hannover Messe to see these technologies in action. “They’re affordable for any size enterprise,” he added.

At Rolls-Royce, the company is using Microsoft’s Azure cloud services and Stream Analytics, along with Machine Learning and Power BI (business intelligence), to extend its TotalCare maintenance program. That program has been in place since the 1990s and allows airlines to pay Rolls-Royce for the hours they are able to fly rather than for repairs. More than 90 percent of the carriers using Rolls-Royce engines use this program. Using these new Microsoft services and technologies for gathering and storing engine data to optimize engine use and repair will allow Rolls-Royce to expand its TotalCare program with new services.

The video below highlights Rolls-Royce’s use of Azure cloud services, Streaming Analytics, Machine Learning and Power BI.

Jabil is a contract manufacturer that produces a wide variety of products, ranging from wearable technology, smartphones and medical devices to automotive, aerospace, defense, enterprise and infrastructure products. The company is using Microsoft’s Azure, Azure Machine Learning, Azure IoT Suite, the Cortana Intelligence Suite, Power BI, SQL Server, Windows 10 and Office 365 to create digital factories at its plants in Guadalajara, Mexico and Penang, Malaysia.

The connected technologies in these plants analyze millions of data points from machines running dozens of steps through the manufacturing process, predicting failures earlier in the process with an accuracy rate of around 80 percent. This ability to detect potential flaws early in production has reduced scrap and rework by 17 percent and led to a 10 percent savings in energy. Based on the success of these technologies at the Guadalajara and Penang plants, Jabil is planning to roll out similar setups to all its facilities worldwide.

The video below shows Jabil’s use of a variety of Microsoft technologies and services to transform its factories and operations.

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