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Microsoft launches cloud platform for manufacturers

25 February, 2021

Microsoft has announced the launch of a cloud platform dedicated to the manufacturing sector. The computing giant says that manufacturers have been moving towards data-driven automation, IoT, machine learning and AI for years and that 2020 showed how critical those capabilities are as factory floors ground to a halt and even the most sophisticated just-in-time supply chains were impacted.

The new Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing, which will be available for public preview by the end of June, is intended to support industry’s core processes and needs.

Çağlayan Arkan, Microsoft’s vice-president for manufacturing industry, says that the disruptions caused the pandemic are here to stay, bringing with them a heightened need for innovation and risk management. “We are at a tipping point where the old ways of doing business will no longer suffice,” he argues. “Manufacturers are asking for help accelerating the transformation of not only their operations but all aspects of their end-to-end business – perhaps most notably their people and culture.”

According to Arkan, "the pandemic has taught us that the fourth industrial revolution is no longer hype. Every business is on a digital journey. The ones who are well into their journey are creating dramatic gains in terms of productivity, agility, sustainability, speed to market.

“It is exciting to see this work really taking hold,” he adds. “It might take several years before we see it scale across the entire industry, but it is happening.” And with its Cloud for Manufacturing, Microsoft and its partners will support manufacturers, wherever they are on their digital transformation journey.

Arkan cites the example of the VentilatorChallengeUK programme at the start of the pandemic when 30 companies – including Accenture, Avanade, PTC and Siemens – came together and used Microsoft Teams, HoloLens and other products and services to set up a new supply chain and produce 20 years’ worth of ventilators in 12 weeks.

Arkan believes that the Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing is unique in its support for industry standards and communities such as the Open Manufacturing Platform, the OPC Foundation, and the Digital Twins Consortium.

He says that manufacturers have accelerated investment in five key areas in response to Covid-19 in 2020, and expects this to persist into 2021 and beyond. He believes that Microsoft and its partners will be able to help them in these areas which include:

Building more agile factories The pandemic revealed that many manufacturers were not prepared to operate remotely. In response, many have accelerated their smart factory investments, with remote operating, simulations and automation taking on a new, vital importance. Arkan says that Microsoft and its partners have already helped to connect billions of different assets, process massive amounts of real-time data, and deploy AI at the edge.

Arkan: “The pandemic has taught us that the fourth industrial revolution is no longer hype.”

Transforming workforces Manufacturers are embracing technologies that help them attract, hire, and retain the next generation of workers. Arkan reports that some are using Microsoft Power Platform to help staff to return to the workplace, and that Microsoft is helping to ensure the next generation has the skills needed for the digital age.

Engaging customers in new ways Manufacturers want connected systems that provide a single view of their customers and devices.

Creating more resilient supply chains Transformation needs to move quickly, says Arkan, embracing the entire value chain, and making connections to and from all suppliers and customers. Manufacturers are using the cloud to build more resilience into their supply chains.

Unlocking innovation and delivering new services Microsoft believes it can accelerate innovation by empowering manufacturers to design, simulate, and validate sustainable products and processes using digital twins and the affordable, scalable power of the cloud.

Microsoft’s Cloud for Manufacturing is one of several industry-specific cloud offerings that the company is launching. Others are aimed at financial services, retail, healthcare and the non-profit sector.

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