Microsoft and BMW corral industry around open platform for digital factory solutions
Microsoft and the BMW have combined to foster easier, cheaper, faster innovation in the manufacturing sector. The pair have launched an ‘open manufacturing platform’ (OMP) to “break down” barriers with complex, proprietary systems that create data silos and slow productivity.
The initiative, built on Microsoft’s Azure industrial IoT platform, will see smart factory solutions developed and shared with OMP members in manufacturing sectors. It aims to provide a reference architecture with open source components, based on open standards. The goal is to accelerate investment returns and drive efficiencies.
The OMP community will also collaborate to standardise data models and unlock siloed data to enable analytics and machine learning scenarios.
Scott Guthrie, executive vice president at Microsoft’s cloud and AI group, commented: “Our commitment to building an open community will create new opportunities for collaboration across the entire manufacturing value chain.”
BMW’s own IoT platform, built on Azure, currently connects over 3,000 machines, robots, and autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs). BMW will contribute initial use cases to the OMP community, including for platform management of autonomous transport system at its plant in Regensburg, Germany.
The car maker has simplified its logistics processes via central coordination of the factory transport robots. BMW will also share use cases for digital feedback loops, digital supply chain management, and predictive maintenance, it said.
Oliver Zipse, member of the board at BMW, said: “The interconnection of production sites and systems as well as the secure integration of partners and suppliers are particularly important. We have been relying on the cloud since 2016 and are consistently developing new approaches.
“With the OMP as the next step, we want to make our solutions available to other companies and jointly leverage potential in order to secure our strong position in the market in the long term.”
The idea is the knowledge sharing within the OMP will facilitate the reuse of software solutions among OEMs, suppliers and other partners, and reduce implementation costs. An ROS-based robotics standard for autonomous transport systems for production and logistics will be available shortly for everyone to use, the pair noted.
The OMP will leverage the OPC UA standard for industrial communications.
Stefan Hoppe, president and chief of the OPC Foundation, commented: “The use of open standards such as OPC UA in the OMP community enables manufacturers, machine builders and suppliers to integrate their existing equipment and systems efficiently and securely. For a long time, companies have promoted proprietary, closed ecosystems — the OMP commitment to open development will shape tomorrow’s manufacturing.”
Microsoft and BMW are recruiting partners to the initiative. An advisory board is expected to be in operation with an initial set of four to six partners in place and a minimum of 15 use cases rolled out into select production environments by the end of 2019.
Meanwhile, Microsoft said its Azure IoT platform is supporting “thousands of devices, at scale, and the number of devices supported has grown nearly 150 percent year-over-year”. It has signed customers including Starbucks, Chevron, Walmart, Walgreens, BMW, Volkswagen, Toyota Material Handling Group in the past year.
“Customers are embracing IoT as a core strategy to drive better business outcomes, improve safety and address social issues – from predicting and preventing equipment failures, optimizing smart buildings for space utilization and energy management and improving patient outcomes and worker safety,” commented Julia White, corporate vice president for Microsoft Azure in a blog post.
A year ago, Microsoft announced a $5 billion investment package for its internet-of-things and edge computing activity. “From the intelligent cloud to the intelligent edge, this year has been one of tremendous growth – in IoT technology portfolio, partner ecosystem and customer momentum – and we are only just beginning,” said White.
She added: “We are one year into our four-year investment. Our priority over the next three years is clear: make it easy for any company to create scalable, secured IoT solutions.”