July 9, 2020
By Darryl McCartney, Sr. Director – Americas IoT Technical Sales, Microsoft IoT and Mixed Reality
Since the mid-1990s, Microsoft has been a pioneer in several technological developments that have become foundational to intelligent manufacturing, including partnering to establish a series of standards and specifications for industrial automation and data acquisition.
Today, what we commonly refer to as Industry 4.0 is the path to accelerating intelligent manufacturing and ultimately unlocking new efficiencies, increasing the resilience of operations and the supply chain, and potentially creating new revenue models. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the technology enabling and accelerating Industry 4.0. And the use of industrial IoT (IIoT) will only continue to increase as the IoT Signals report projects that 94% of businesses will be using IoT by the end of 2021.
As the manufacturing industry adopts new technologies to evolve their organization and digital capabilities, opportunities emerge to address common roadblocks: technical complexity, security concerns, and lack of talent and training. This article examines these very topics, including key considerations for building security into IIoT solutions and how manufacturers can securely connect existing installed bases and mission-critical equipment (i.e., brownfield legacy environments).
Evolution of the manufacturing industry
Manufacturing is a traditional capital expenditure (CAPEX) business with potentially long lead cycles and investments that can make introducing new products a challenge. IIoT is a needed technology for manufacturers pursuing the benefits of Industry 4.0 and many believe it will achieve near-universal use in the next two years.
Common IIoT use cases for the manufacturing industry involve automation, quality and compliance, production planning, supply chain visibility, and worker safety and security. And we are seeing organizations’ adoption of digital capabilities that rely on new innovative IoT services significantly shape the future of intelligent manufacturing.
Adopting digital capabilities
As manufacturing organizations embark on a digital transformation journey in today’s environment, there is an increased focus on staying connected and enabling remote operations, addressing worker health and safety, and ensuring a resilient supply chain to meet demand—all while ultimately reducing costs. Many manufacturers are also now offering new, innovative recurring IIoT services offerings, which is changing the way traditional companies approach their product portfolio.
Enabling a future-ready workforce
Another area strongly impacting the way manufacturers operate is the current employee skills-gap challenge. The average age of today’s manufacturing employees is increasing in several core regions of the world, and 47% of current IoT adopters feel their companies don’t have enough skilled workers. Many manufacturers are finding that to build a future-ready workforce consisting of today’s top technology talent, they must embrace a cultural transformation accelerated by technology.
As such, many companies are adopting new digital capabilities that not only support their digital transformation model but also help create and communicate modern workplace experiences. The combination of productivity apps, intelligent cloud services, and security is aiding many manufacturers when it comes to empowering their hiring practices and transforming the way employees work.
“The combination of productivity apps, intelligent cloud services, and security is aiding many manufacturers when it comes to empowering their hiring practices and transforming the way employees work.”
Driving organizational change
IIoT is enabling significant organizational change as manufacturers shift from focusing on product sales to a product-as-a-service (PaaS) model that bundles together physical products, software, and support as well as offers digital services like predictive maintenance. Intelligent manufacturing initiatives are also focused on driving global competitiveness, overall equipment effectiveness, low-cost sourcing, and production volumes.
For a significant portion of 2020, many factories have been operating at <25% capacity due to the global outbreak, with some in certain regions pausing all activity based on supply-and-demand challenges and worker safety. Yet we have also seen the global circumstances force organizations to innovate and think differently about how they operate. On an immediate note, it has forced organizations with the ability to do so, to transfer work out of the office environment, enable remote worker productivity tools such as Microsoft 365 and Teams, and support customers via online tools and digitally delivered meetings.
We’ve also seen an acceleration from the sector to push toward remote operations and core business continuity. As the manufacturing industry focuses on adapting their organizational models to fit the shifting landscape and enable essential operations, we have seen an increased interest in IIoT services for remote assistance, remote monitoring, as well as control and automation solutions. We are also seeing requests for cognitive solutions that can help with worker safety and health concerns.
“IIoT is enabling significant organizational change as manufacturers shift from focusing on product sales to a product-as-a-service (PaaS) model that bundles together physical products, software, and support as well as offers digital services like predictive maintenance.”
The role of IoT in manufacturing
While IoT has beneficial applications across industries, each one addresses different use cases based on customers’ specific needs. The top two reasons for which manufacturers often implement IIoT are operations optimization and employee productivity, as these areas are key financial motivators.
Other common manufacturing IIoT roles are worker safety and security, with almost half viewing these as top reasons to utilize IIoT. Another significant percentage of enterprises adopt IIoT to manage supply chains, assure quality, track assets, and enable sales. It has never been more imperative that manufacturers implement new technologies that ensure increased visibility and the ability to predict vulnerabilities throughout the supply chain.
When it comes to intelligent manufacturing scenarios, the best approach to implementing or managing IIoT solutions is to adopt a full lifecycle programmatic approach. It’s essential to start with comprehensive planning for all phases of IoT initiatives at a company, including the business strategy, leadership and organization, technology roadmap, talent, operations, core business processes, partnerships, and security.
As part of the planning and strategic phases, not only is it important to account for how data gathered from IIoT solutions will plug into business intelligence or data science analytics scenarios, but also how to track, manage, and secure each IoT device. For manufacturers, making IIoT part of their transformation journey is about enabling a digital feedback loop that connects all the data being gathered to inform areas such as product development, customer experiences, organizational agility, and more.
Building security into the manufacturing environment
IoT security is an evolving journey and must be a foundational part of manufacturing assets and environments. It requires that protection be built in at each stage of your solution’s deployment—including your cloud services and devices—and that security weaknesses are minimized where they exist. And it requires using technology built on decades of experience to make your threat detection and response smarter and faster with AI-driven security signals that modernize your security operations.
Prioritizing IoT security for mission-critical equipment
IoT security covers billions of new devices connected each year. As manufacturers look to pursue broader digital transformational efforts that begin with connecting industrial assets to the cloud, it is increasingly imperative that security is a central component of any technological adoption. Only when manufacturers implement IIoT experiences and devices built on a foundation of security can they enable durable innovation, as well as minimize risk to private data, business assets, and reputation.
Microsoft IoT device security platforms make it possible for manufacturers to securely connect with their customers and for customers to connect with their devices—all in innovative new ways. Azure Sphere is one end-to-end solution from Microsoft that makes it easy and affordable for device manufacturers to create highly secure, connected devices. Built on decades of Microsoft experience in hardware, software, and cloud, Azure Sphere is a turnkey security solution that helps protect your data, privacy, physical safety, and infrastructure from silicon to the cloud.
“Only when manufacturers implement IIoT experiences and devices built on a foundation of security can they enable durable innovation, as well as minimize risk to private data, business assets, and reputation.”
Securely connecting brownfield legacy environments
Outside of securing new devices, one of the biggest challenges for manufacturers is their brownfield legacy environments. At the forefront: how do manufacturers with established and significant investment costs across a global footprint of sites and installed bases cost effectively adopt an IoT program and Industry 4.0 strategy? Microsoft is focused on helping address this very question for IIoT, OT, and infrastructure scenarios with the recent acquisition of CyberX, as well as development of the guardian module with Azure Sphere.
The guardian module with Azure Sphere is an add-on hardware that can be incorporated on an Azure Sphere chip and physically attaches to a port on a brownfield device – i.e., an existing device that may already be in use or deployed in the field. By using a guardian module, manufacturers can add secure IoT capabilities to existing equipment. And because it’s an Azure Sphere-integrated device, all the Azure Sphere security and connectivity features are available: all data is encrypted, OS and application modules are securely updated, and authentication ensures the module only communications with trusted hosts.
IIoT solutions in action
Organizations across manufacturing sectors are implementing IIoT solutions to optimize operations, increase workplace safety, and implement energy and cost savings.
Norwegian company, OSO Hotwater, designed a highly efficient water heater that connects to the Azure cloud and leverages Azure Sphere to securely communicate with grid companies and cities to determine optimal times for drawing energy from the grid. All without inconveniencing consumers.
Finally, Avanade developed contactless interfaces that use Azure IoT Edge to help reduce or eliminate physical touchpoints throughout the day, such as door handles and elevator controls. This solution combines intelligent IoT edge devices with the storage, computing, AI, and machine learning capabilities of the Azure cloud.
Learn more about IoT in manufacturing
Intelligent manufacturing is poised to continue to grow, with Industry 4.0 strategies evolving based on the increased adoption of IoT solutions and digital capabilities. And IIoT adoption is also increasing as manufacturers realize its benefits for minimizing downtime, boosting product quality, and ultimately driving cost savings.
From an increased focus on automation to continuous efforts around improved worker safety, there are numerous applications where IoT-generated data and insights offer visibility across the entire value chain. To learn more, browse the following resources:
Darryl McCartney is the Microsoft IoT Technical Sales Director for the Americas. Darryl has direct experience building global enterprise class IoT projects, with areas of business concentration on Smart IoT Solutions, Digital Transformation Strategy, Industrial Automation, Smart Buildings, Enterprise Asset Management, and Facilities Management. He has extensive global experience with industrial automation, automotive, heavy truck, construction and agricultural equipment manufacturers.