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Reengineering the Tech Platform for the New Era of Manufacturing

By Enrique Andaluz, Director Strategic Business Development, WW Discrete Manufacturing, Microsoft on January 23, 2015

Filed under Discrete Manufacturing

In my previous blog post, I talked about the three areas of change that industrial manufacturers need to understand in order to take advantage of the opportunities of a connected world to create unprecedented business value: the technology aspect, the morphing of business practices, and the interconnecting of things, people and services. Today, I’d like to talk more about the technology side of things.

The transformation of the industrial technology platform

We continue adapt to industrial revolutions, as old system architectures become obsolete and new technologies push forward. Bosch’s IoT blog does a great job of explaining the three previous industrial revolutions that have brought monumental changes to the world. They also describe how we’ll transition to the fourth industrial revolution: the Internet of Things (IoT) and the connection of physical things with the Internet.

In Bosch’s whitepaper “Capitalizing on the Internet of Things – How to succeed in a connected world,” it’s well explained how industrial automation advanced due to a well-architected system that was able to ingest data from the physical world into a new digital era of manufacturing. The embedded systems were born to connect at the “device” layer. For storage, the database technologies at the time were used—along with other technological capabilities available—to process data, organize it in a structured way, and filter it before it was transferred to an upper architectural layer—in that case the “control” layer.

When this architecture was designed over two decades ago, the available technology did not allow for large storage as it was expensive. It also did not allow for fast computing or for fast speed of data flow. At that point in time, data was very structured and confined to being batch-processed and easy to manage, much different than the unstructured forms like video streaming, voice, and real-time flow that exist today.

In those days, even though sophisticated, predictive algorithms, advanced statistics, and probability techniques were available, they were not widely applied to improve manufacturing performance. This was primarily due to a relatively low speed of response and the inability to use very large datasets to drive analytics. At the time, quick scientific approaches were cost-prohibitive for most companies and took a long time to compute and implement results.

Enterprise & plant transformation diagram 1

Enterprise & plant transformation diagram 2

Leading the way to a cloud-first, mobile-first platform

Today, leaders will be those who take advantage of systems that are inexpensive and fast to implement. The new leaders are not limited by size—they can be big or small. Neither are they limited to financial capabilities—they can have small or large budgets. Nor are they limited to the scope of operations—they can operate easily at a local or global scope. The new leader is simply the one who is nimble and makes earlier than others the decision to take advantage of the new architectural opportunity first.

I’m now observing large collaborative efforts across manufacturing leaders to build standards and modular capabilities that will give way to new architectures. Organizations like OPC working on cloud computing industry standards, and the ability to implement open source-based ideas easily with new Microsoft Azure services (learn more about this new open source project by MS Open Tech), are only two examples of simple, cost-effective and easy-to-implement outcomes that the industry can now use to manage remote assets—distributed or not—and provide unprecedented services impossible to be provided before.

While many organizations are working on being the first to create a new standard, I won’t be surprised that in the future a new cloud-based architecture becomes real and supports ideas of process improvement. Taking the previous example of the S-95 architecture, the below images show how new operation models will support advancement for both internal and external business improvement and allow discovery of new sources of revenue for manufacturers.

Machine/Equipment Users quantum-leap towards Operational Excellence diagram

Machine/Equipment Builders provide unprecedented Customer Services diagram

I will assume that the old architectural models will soon give way to the new ones. I believe today’s conditions give us an opportunity to think, generate and implement a new architecture as long as we start thinking from ground zero, but under the umbrella of a technologically-advanced world and with the broad industrial automation experience that we have collected as practitioners in the past two decades. We are heading in the right direction to bring to life a cloud-first, mobile-first, innovative architecture equal to the task as required by today’s pioneering leaders for the new era of manufacturing.

I look forward to exchanging ideas about what the new cloud-first, mobile-first architecture for industrial automation could look like. In my next blog, I’ll discuss business model innovation and some examples that creative manufacturers are realizing now with the use of simple approaches to connected operations. In the meantime, for questions, contact

Enrique Andaluz

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