Ultimate Guide to Azure for Manufacturing

Modern manufacturing requires a comprehensive set of cloud solutions. Microsoft Azure tools for manufacturing can help your business optimize processes, reduce risk, and become more sustainable. This article explores the value proposition of the cloud for manufacturing and goes into detail about the specific solutions and services that manufacturers are already using to modernize operations.

Andrew Newman

Andrew Newman

Technology and manufacturing have been intertwined since technology has been available. The manufacturing industry has always been ahead of the game when it comes to efficiency and optimization, much of which has been facilitated by technology. This has been shown through the development of different manufacturing methodologies such as lean and Kanban that were developed to drive efficiency and reduce waste. While software tools were not available when these methodologies were developed, they popularized the idea of deep process auditing and optimization, proving that business case for certain companies. That is not to say these methodologies are superior, it is a testament to the value of optimization that many companies that adopted them are still around many decades later, such as Toyota. Optimization has never been easier than today with the amount of data, data collection tools, data analytics tools, and automation tools that are currently available. Demand continues to grow, and margins are tight so now is the time to invest in the cloud manufacturing solutions that will strengthen your business for the future and today with Microsoft Azure for manufacturing.

Why do Manufacturers Need the Cloud?

There are many use cases that have been developed around the use of cloud computing for the manufacturing industry and they primarily showcase the ability to make more informed decisions, faster, with a focus on optimization. This is not particularly surprising if you have some knowledge of the applications of data analytics to business processes. What is more surprising is the extent to which cloud computing solutions can improve manufacturing businesses in several different aspects.

 

Microsoft partner, Seeq, was able to realize substantial benefits by incorporating the Azure cloud with their process manufacturing software, cutting data analysis time for one of their refinery clients down from 4 months to 30 minutes. That business was completely transformed and is able to enter a completely different league of productivity and awareness. The cost savings of 4 months of reduced machine and human labor are game-changing for any business. The truly impressive part is that the case of Seeq is not a one-off. Manufacturer, TwinThread saved hundreds of thousands of dollars using Azure tools to preserve uptime for their devices. Furthermore, Uptale, an auto manufacturer, was able to save training costs through virtual reality training tools. The list goes on. This article will dive into the different tools available through Azure that manufacturers can use them to their advantage in the ways that many already have.

 

These Azure tools are working to address core business problems around sustainability, performance measurement, and product consistency.

What is Microsoft Azure?

Microsoft Azure is Microsoft’s cloud computing service that includes a vast array of cloud products. These services include but are not limited to data storage, artificial intelligence, cloud servers, networking, analytics, and software. There is a plethora of tools available through Microsoft Azure. Core benefits of cloud computing, generally, are agility and security. Cloud solutions allow your business to scale to meet demand as needed and keep your data safe from attacks. Learn more about the fundamentals of cloud computing and Microsoft Azure.

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Is Your Business Secure Without Cloud Solutions?

The answer to this question will almost always be no. Unless your business has millions invested in state-of-the-art on-premise servers and airtight security tools and policies, you are likely at a heightened risk of a cyber-attack. Microsoft invests over $1 billion annually in security for a reason, and we will continue to see this number increase. The risk of a cyber-attack has never been higher and in the US, the average total cost of an enterprise data breach in the industrial sector is $4.24 million, all factors considered. This number only continues to climb every year due to aging, unsupported systems, and more sophisticated hackers.

 

The Azure cloud facilitates data duplication across multiple regions and datacenters to ensure that if you do encounter a data breach, your data will still be unharmed in another database. This means your business does not need to be concerned with ransomware if you take the correct precautions with cloud services. Additionally, the possibility of a shutdown due to an attack is substantially lower. Now, let’s have a look at the Azure tools and services that manufacturers can utilize to reach a new level of efficiency.

 

A preview of the solutions included as part of this guide can be seen below:

Azure for manufacturing graphic

Azure Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT is of particular interest to any industrial business that employs both machinery and software. IoT facilitates real-time information on health status of your entire infrastructure, as well as location for mobile assets. The core value proposition for this is the ability to perform prescriptive maintenance on your machines, minimizing downtime and severity of issues. This tool utilizes sensors and devices that are capable of machine learning to help predict equipment failure. Using this information, technicians can be alerted before a failure occurs.

 

This cloud manufacturing solution can help your business move away from arbitrary maintenance timing to actual data-backed maintenance decisions. This optimizes maintenance because there is no longer the risk of doing it too frequently or infrequently, reducing both cost and risk. If your manufacturing business has multiple locations, they can all be monitored using the same IoT dashboard in Azure IoT Central. Devices are monitored using a bidirectional flow of data between Azure and devices. The service that maintains this data flow is called Azure IoT Hub.

Securing Your IoT System

Returning to the topic of security, to ensure the security of your Azure IoT solutions, Microsoft offers Defender for IoT. This solution provides unified threat protection for all your devices connected by IoT. All assets are continuously monitored for risks using threat intelligence and behavioral analytics. Attacks are stopped using AI and automated, cross-domain security and interoperability with Microsoft SIEM/SOAR and XDR. A benefit of the tool is that it is compatible with on-premise, cloud, and hybrid environments so you can start using it before you make a full cloud transition. Pricing for Defender for IoT can be found here

KPI's (Key Performance Indicators)

Beyond threat protection and predictive maintenance, Azure IoT can be highly useful for the monitoring of site and production data measured against KPI’s. For example, measuring the health and performance of your assets. This feature can integrate with your ERP and CRM systems, keeping finance, supply chain, and sales personnel up to date on your manufacturing performance.

KPI dashboard Azure IoT

Azure AI and Machine Learning Tools

Furthermore, essential Azure cloud manufacturing solutions rely on Microsoft’s impressive artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities. AI and machine learning are of particular use when applied to quality control and inventory planning.

 

Azure’s AI can be leveraged to increase to consistency of the products you manufacture. There are several cases of this being applied to businesses already, including use by Frito-Lay when they make Cheetos. Do you ever wonder why your Cheetos are always the same no matter when and where you buy them? To ensure a consistent crispness, lightness, shape, etc. Frito-Lay uses Azure AI. The AI tool works with the Cheeto extruder, adjusting cutting tool speed and recipe when it notices the snacks are beginning to stary from typical specifications.

 

While you may think that applying AI to snack making is over-complicating the process, (after all what’s the problem with a few extra crunchy Cheetos?), in reality this reduces complexity for Frito-Lay employees and is a significant money-saver for the company. Their manufacturing employees can now spend less time manually inspecting batches and subjectivity is eliminated almost entirely, leading to a more consistent product at a lower effort. For the business, this means less wasted product, time, and money.

How Azure for Manufacturing Revolutionizes Sustainability

Reducing waste means more sustainable manufacturing. When manufacturers reduce waste with cloud manufacturing solutions, not only is this great for budgets, it also helps the planet. One company that has embraced Azure tools to increase sustainability is Bridgestone Tires. Bridgestone turned to Azure for HPC (high performance computing) to increase capacity while reducing waste. Azure for HPC is a set of tools centered around networking, computing, AI, machine learning, and storage.

 

Azure for HPC has been used more frequently in the automotive manufacturing sector because of the high costs associated with designing and prototyping entire vehicles and components. Azure for HPC has offered an alternative to this wasteful, expensive process, facilitating the ability to create prototypes remotely. The impressive capacity of Azure for HPC supports the highly intensive workloads required for the graphics used in this process. Furthermore, these designs can be tested remotely with virtual wind tunnels to test aerodynamics, crash test simulations, and autonomous driving validation. Beyond this, even aspects of structural integrity, potential overheating issues, and pressure can be simulated using the solutions.

Azure tools are revolutionizing the sustainability potential of traditionally high-waste, expensive manufacturing processes across many industries. Bridgestone is using these cloud manufacturing solutions to optimize their tire performance and sustainability. The capacity of Azure for HPC drove Bridgestone to embrace the cloud. Their on-premise infrastructure was impeding their ability to scale and for a business so heavily focused on research and development, they needed a way to test their products without incurring massive costs related to wasted product. The ability to seamlessly spin up out-of-box virtual machines to supplement their existing infrastructure has been a game-changer for them, allowing them to infinitely scale their activities at a fraction of the cost of purchasing further infrastructure. For this reason, they are continually migrating their workloads to Azure and avoiding further hardware purchases.

 

Sustainability is essential moving forward and manufacturers that avoid initiatives around this will be left behind due to inefficiency, poor margins, and negative public perception. To track your sustainability efforts, KPI’s can be set up to monitor performance against benchmarks, test hypotheses, and ensure your devices are meeting regulatory standards when applicable.

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Azure Digital Twins

One Azure tool that manufacturers use to create digital models of entire real-world environments is Azure Digital Twins. Azure Digital Twins is a tool that uses IoT spatial intelligence to map and create realistic models of actual environments. This can even extend to people and processes. As with all Azure solutions, the scalability component is impressive. The Digital Twins tool can accommodate anything from models of a farm to entire cities. This is facilitated through the powerful IaaS that Azure offers.

 

One example of how this Azure product has been applied to the manufacturing industry already is General Electric Aviation. GE Aviation uses Azure Digital Twins to create digital models of their aircrafts to analyze their statuses. Factors they would look to analyze are health of the machine and efficiency, down to the component level. Through these valuable insights, GE Aviation is able to maximize fuel efficiency and perform predictive maintenance. This saves cost, while ensuring a higher level of safety.

 

As a cloud manufacturing solution, Azure Digital Twins can be invaluable, helping users visualize their infrastructure, facilitated by IoT. From a financial and efficiency perspective, Digital Twins is one of the most valuable solutions a manufacturer can employ.

Azure Synapse Analytics

Azure Synapse Analytics provides your business with limitless analytics capabilities. Azure Synapse Analytics is built to crunch big data 380% faster than comparable services from other cloud computing providers at a 49% discount on average.

 

Returning to the case of Seeq, and the statistic of cutting data analysis time down from 4 months to 30 minutes, this was made possible using Azure Synapse Analytics. Running analyses on millions of events is invaluable for manufacturers looking to reap efficiency gains. A theme in the manufacturing industry is companies being data rich but information poor (DRIP). However, with Azure cloud solutions, no shortage of insights and opportunities for improvement can be uncovered in your company’s data. Powerful analytics tools such as Azure Synapse Analytics facilitate opportunities to be identified faster than ever before.

 

Azure Synapse Analytics allows your data analysis team to query petabytes of relational and non-relational data using their preferred language including, T-SQL, KQL, Python, Spark SQL, .net, and Scala. For manufacturers, essential gains from these activities include reducing unplanned downtime due to predictive maintenance, superior supply chain visibility due to connected data, and optimizing equipment effectiveness.

Cloud Data Storage Services

Now that all of these impressive tools and their uses have been covered, where is the data stored? Tools like Azure Synapse Analytics are not useful without extensive databases for them to draw from. Azure has several options for massively scalable, unstructured data storage, notably, Azure Blob Storage and Azure Data Lake Storage. Azure Blob Storage is useful for companies utilizing machine learning tools and demand high performance computing. Azure Data Lake Storage is optimized for analytics workloads. Automatic geo-replication is included as part of this service to ensure that in the case of a data breach in one database, your company’s data is still safe in another database in another region. Azure Blob Storage utilizes petabyte scale in a cost-effective manner and is a strong option for businesses that need the ability to build data lakes. For businesses using HPC applications and IoT, this is optimized to your needs.

 

For structured data, Azure SQL Database and data warehouse options are available. The SQL Database service is highly scalable to support intensive workloads, with the ability to rapidly scale storage by up to 100 TB using Azure SQL Database Hyperscale. Data is backed up in an instant and the entire database can be restored in minutes. All of this comes at an average of an 86% discount to the comparable AWS service. As with the rest of the cloud services offered by Microsoft, security is at the forefront of the value proposition. For even greater security, Azure’s main data warehousing option is Dedicated SQL pool (formerly Azure SQL Data Warehouse). This service is valuable for organizations looking to employ machine learning and is compatible with Azure Synapse Analytics.

Conclusion

Azure has a wide range of products and services that can be applied to manufacturing. Cloud manufacturing solutions are the present and future, with unique capabilities that can make worlds of difference in your operations. The efficiency and sustainability benefits are well documented as shown through the various use cases that have been presented. To explore more Azure use cases and customer stories visit the Microsoft site. Reach out to Avantiico to learn how your manufacturing business can start utilizing the Azure cloud solutions most valuable to your operations.

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Learn more about the benefits of Microsoft Azure for your Manufacturing business

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