Microsoft Cloud, Push That Manufacturing Companies Need

With partnerships like the one with Porini and Ptc, the Redmond colossus is again taking care of the factory. It has become an increasingly safe and technological place, with HoloLens as the master but also with increasingly advanced technologies such as IIoT and artificial intelligence. The cases of Ima Group relating to condition monitoring, of Gruppo Salvagnini and AB on augmented reality, and of TechnoAlpin, Gruppo Rulmeca, and Ac Boilers in the connected product area Microsoft’s cloud ecosystem becomes the engine to accelerate the digital transformation of manufacturing companies. 

At the forefront are allies such as Ptc, the leading global company in CAD/PLM, Digital Twin, Simulation, Internet of Things (IoT), and augmented reality (AR) solutions; and partners such as Porini, the system integrator active on an international scale specialized in advanced analytics, machine learning, and performance management solutions. «The cloud becomes the data platform for the smart factory. It can be fed with information that allows for creating a data-driven model that satisfies a decision-making capacity based on data». 

Thanks to the integration of cloud resources, Ptc and Porini have the building blocks for integrating business processes and providing services based on the connected product. In the solutions arising from the collaboration with Microsoft, the cloud becomes the digital replica of the factory environment, creating the conditions for carrying out preventive and predictive maintenance services to improve production performance.

 An absolute priority for all companies looking for new ways to acquire and use real-time information aimed at continuous process optimization, plant performance efficiency, operators’ digital operations, and, last but not least, the generation of new product-as-a-service business models.  «We play a leading role in the digitization process of the industrial system, says Callea. Business solutions, IoT platforms, and artificial intelligence augmented reality. 

We can accompany the manufacturing company to correlate the data through all the processes». Here is Ptc and Porini’s vision for the intelligent factory, as emerged during the “Design-Production-Service” event organized by The Innovation Group. Some exciting houses are those of Ima Group about condition monitoring, by Salvagnini Group and AB on augmented reality, and by TechnoAlpin, Rulmeca Group, and Ac Boilers in the connected product area.

Augmented Reality, A Digital Vision For Innovative Man-Machine Interaction

Cross-departmental digitization based on Creo and Windchill technologies, the ThingWorx Industrial IoT platform, and the Vuforia augmented reality platform is Ptc’s levers for business digitization. Augmented reality, in particular, is one of the emerging applications through which the industrial software multinational, in synergy with Microsoft’s HoloLens holographic computing technology, manages to bring new solutions to the market that enable “hands-free” operation on the machine and the production lines. 

It is considered the leading technology to achieve greater efficiency and quality of work. The future is impressive. According to the most recent market analyses, it is expected that in 2025 the value of global investments associated with this technology will reach 163 billion dollars. Augmented reality is a highly interactive, visual method of presenting relevant digital information in the context of the physical environment in which factory personnel operate.

 It offers a better way to create and distribute work instructions that are easy to use by overlaying digital content in natural machining environments. An example of a convergent PLM/AR solution developed on Ptc platforms is implemented at the Salvagnini Group, a company specializing in producing machines and systems for sheet metal working, which boasts five factories, 1,750 employees, and a turnover of 400 million euros. 

After having finalized the servitization process enabling condition monitoring of the machines with Microsoft, the Group chose to complete the digitization of the methods using Ptc technology. Specifically, Vuforia’s augmented reality capability will enable innovative digital human-machine interaction, facilitating all maintenance and factory asset control operations.

Digital Thread. Ptc’s Industrial LoT Philosophy For The Intelligent Factory

From engineering to production, from logistics to maintenance. Data and applications can and must be the protagonists of a true digital transformation of manufacturing, with a view to greater operational efficiency, a shorter time-to-market, and a better customer experience for the end customer. For Ptc, the definition of a digital thread is the answer to enhance the data and accelerate the creation of the 4.0 factory.

This connective tissue creates a closed loop of information, from design to sale. Creating a digital thread means setting fire to the dust, enhancing the data that exists but is not used». This is the role of the suite of solutions made available by Ptc. It starts with product design. It starts from the design, from the management of bills of materials for production, up to the configuration of the product in all its parts to manage its entire life cycle.

«The digitization of information generates opportunities since data can give life to a digital twin that allows operators to perform their activities in the best possible way, arranging punctual maintenance interventions, on a predictive basis.»

To Enable Models As A Service, Creating A Digital Replica Of The Physical Factory Is Necessary 

For both Ptc and Porini, the application and infrastructural resources of the cloud make it possible to provide condition monitoring services with predictive capabilities. «Every business function generates data that is useful internally and for other business functions. Digitization must not be interpreted exclusively in vertical logic, but horizontal and cross-departmental». In short, the application integration generated by the combination of Microsoft resources gives life to a matrix scheme. 

The data generated in each area can be cross-referenced with a whole series of application instances. «Every application domain – PLM, MES, ERP, CRM– doesn’t have to be a silo. Information to support decisions is generated in each container, but it must be interconnected to extract the actual value. Ptc-Microsoft converged solutions create the foundation for end-to-end product lifecycle management. 

Condition Monitoring And Predictive Maintenanc

Ptc’s ThingWorx Industrial IoT platform allows you to define processes based on data acquisition capable of releasing information to support operational decisions. «Today, manufacturers need more than ever to share real-time information and dynamically visualize data. 

Thanks to access to data in the cloud, multidisciplinary teams distributed across multiple geographical areas can improve the maintenance process, adds the Ptc manager. The platform’s open architecture also allows integration with other business systems, providing a solid foundation for interconnecting all business functions and developing configurable apps based on roles and tasks». 

“Connecting The Dots,” How To Create A Unified Digital Enterprise Vision.

Porini supports companies in designing and implementing solutions capable of managing business processes and digital innovation in all company areas. The mission is to help customers adopt and develop solutions aimed at improving decision-making and corporate governance systems. «Optimization of production processes and operating costs, servitization. Ultimately, the goal is to achieve a competitive advantage in the market and product differentiation, manufacturing industry leader of the system integrator. 

For many companies, especially SMEs, the digital transformation is not completed because there is no strategic planning. Initiatives often arise from individual departments, engineering, manufacturing, or service. What is missing is an overall vision and collaborative planning». In other words, in Porini’s vision, the most significant difficulty for companies lies in “connecting the dots” in linking the different company areas where data is generated. 

Extensive digitization for improved business processes

According to recent market analyses, approximately two-thirds of digital transformation initiatives fail because they are not born from a unified vision. They are essential to individual areas, but the information is kept from inside or outside the company. In other words, the value of the data associated with the product must be seen not so much in a linear or sequential logic but as a circular one. Ensure that the product information can be used to optimize the design, improve its operation, and minimize downtime through maintenance planning.

 «If all systems were connected, companies could speed up time to market, understand what customers’ needs are, and, therefore, enable differentiated product development; For all companies embarking on a digital transformation path, one rule applies above all: the more extensive the digitization, the greater the chances of success and improvement of business processes. It is the condition that generates flexibility and agility concerning changes and market demand».

Ptc and Ima Group. Real-time monitoring of machinery

One of the world leaders in the design and production of automatic machines for the processing and packaging of pharmaceutical, cosmetic, food, tea, and coffee products, has realized that by helping customers exploit information and data-driven insights, you can deliver more valuable solutions and services. “It is only possible to improve efficiency with more detailed information on operations.

 We wanted to help customers develop in-depth knowledge of manufacturing processes based on relevant data,” ICT and Industry 4.0 corporate director of Ima. One of Ima’s key objectives is to improve factory performance and reduce downtime. The offer of services has therefore passed from a traditional type to one based on the connected product. «The world of machinery is moving towards servitization. The real competitive advantage no longer concerns only the machinery, but the level of service that we can offer customers» 

It, A path of digital transformation, that of Ima, which has exploited the potential of ThingWorx. Sentinel, the application developed by Ima in collaboration with Ptc, allows you to monitor the conditions of the machinery in real time, acquire raw data and translate it into valuable information displayed in a central dashboard. Based on an open platform, it can use data from all types of machinery, not just that of its equipment.

 Capabilities for remote monitoring and analysis proved essential during the pandemic when travel and access restrictions made it difficult for people to access production sites. The ability to provide remote support, monitoring, troubleshooting, and providing insights via phone, tablet, and computers turned out to be strategic. But the remote capabilities have proven beneficial even after restrictions have been eased, improving overall efficiency. Sentinel Control Room Services offer customers proactive remote assistance. 

Support teams interpret ThingWorx algorithms and machine data and respond to anomalies, generating automatic alarms alert control room operators if immediate action is needed. If a problem occurs, the technicians contact the customer and help him solve it. The company aims to develop the created solutions further by incorporating new features and technologies. Specifically, we intend to exploit artificial intelligence to improve predictive anomaly algorithms.

AB, Ptc’s augmented reality to manage remote assistance interventions

Making service activities more efficient: this is the principal operating “benefit” that  AB, the Brescia-based multinational active in the field of cogeneration solutions, biofuel, and the treatment of emissions into the atmosphere with over 1,500 plants installed in over twenty countries, has achieved downstream of the adoption, Ptc’s solution based on AR technology to manage remote assistance interventions. 

The service is the flagship of the company. The use of solutions based on augmented reality has therefore filled the need to guarantee the continuity of the assistance service in any situation ( lockdown, for example, was the borderline case), allowing technicians to operate remotely as if they were on the site of the intervention and to provide precise indications to colleagues in the field (equipped with smartphones or tablets and an Internet connection) to manage critical situations and reset the response times to the problem.

Porini, the use cases of TechnoAlpin, of the Rulmeca Group of Ac Boiler

TechnoAlpin, the world’s leading Italian company in the production of snow-making systems, uses the IoT 4 Manufacturing solution developed by Porini on Microsoft Azure  IoT & Machine Learning technology. The company needed a tool that supported data collection from different devices around the world and was able to manage and analyze the data to improve its functioning. The solution proved effective due to its scalability and performance. 

«We started with an IoT project idea and fielded a group of people who worked on the topic with Porini to study how to go about building our data in the cloud. The project aims to increase the plant’s efficiency and allows us to create new product-as-a-service business models for TechnoAlpin. Starting from the pilot project, which considered hundreds of installations, we have now moved on to having thousands of snow cannons connected worldwide. A large amount of information is collected every 5 minutes from each device. 

The historical and real-time analysis allows the company to improve the services’ quality and guide decision-makers in optimizing the systems. Founded in 1962, the  Rulmeca Group has become a leading global supplier of rollers, stations, drums, drum motors for heavy-duty conveyor belts and rollers, and drive systems for intralogistics. Today it has 17 companies spread across five continents and about 1200 employees, produces over 5 million rollers a year, and has customers in 85 countries.

For the Group, Porini has collaborated in developing a new monitoring platform: Rulmeca Monitoring System, a cloud system that allows remote control of the Rulmeca components installed in the plants. «For the development of our monitoring platform, we chose Microsoft Azure as the cloud platform and, thanks to the contribution of Porini, as an expert on the platform, we developed the solution,» says Francesco Chebat, R&D corporate manager of Rulmeca.

«For Porini, this project is certainly one of the most interesting developments in the last five years. The sensors embedded in the roller that are activated by movement and send signals to a gateway, the cost-effectiveness, security, and stability of the solution on the Microsoft platform, was a challenge for everyone and was successfully overcome», adds Gennari.

With over 150 years of experience in Steam Generation and Burner technology, Ac Boilers, formerly Ansaldo Caldaie, is the largest Italian manufacturer of Boiler Technology, «The AC Performance Plus project began about two years ago intending to innovate and reinvent our products. Therefore, we decided to develop a remote assistance and supervision system to provide cutting-edge services to our customers. 

Thanks to the support of the IT department, we started collaborating with Porini right from the early stages of the project. We were able to implement the most advanced Microsoft technologies in the field of IoT, cloud, and machine learning. We have created a system capable of acquiring hundreds of operating parameters from our field sensors in real-time and processing them in the cloud.

where a digital twin model of the plant has been created, which allows us to process the data through a conventional methodology and machine learning algorithms. The system, which allows parameters such as efficiency, reliability, and performance of our plants to be analyzed in real-time, is configured as a solution that can be used on existing and new plants to increase profitability».

What drives or stops companies from investing in a data platform? 

The perception of the return on investment in a data-driven transformation project is complex. If it were possible to have a precise and tangible evaluation beforehand, everyone would invest in having complete visibility of company data and implementing solutions that generate value from it. One of the biggest challenges for the protagonists of the technology offer is linked precisely to the need to clarify what can be done immediately. The projects described here demonstrate the value of cloud computing for manufacturing and for enabling concrete Smart Factory experiences.

In this post-pandemic recovery phase, there is an increasing need to innovate processes and products/services for sustainable growth. Innovation can be accelerated by leveraging data from the supply chain and intelligent technologies. Microsoft has always been committed to accompanying Italian manufacturing and its partners in this digital transformation process, providing scalable and interoperable platforms and vertical skills. Learn more about enabling technologies and how some companies have implemented them with this report. 

Read Also: ClubHouse: How It Works, And What It Could Become