Over the last decade, innovations in technologies have reshaped many aspects of how companies work and create their products even leading to the birth of entirely new industries. Manufacturing organizations are going through major transformations as these technologies are integrated into the manufacturing experience and driving innovation to stay ahead of the competition. Hitachi is the ninth largest manufacturing company on the planet with more than 108 years of experience building products across a wide range of industries. Hitachi has created a set of intellectual property and insights designed to empower organizations to create smarter manufacturing solutions.

Optimized Factory Driving Industry 4.0 

One of the solutions that Hitachi has created, Hitachi Optimized Factory, focuses on safer work environments and cost reduction through reduced material waste, improved labor productivity, increased equipment availability, optimal energy use. Hitachi Optimized Factory, which can be described as the “the Hitachi Way,” is based on best digital practices from Hitachi’s own top performing manufacturing facilities and is used as a guiding framework for operational excellence for Hitachi Group companies.

The Hitachi Optimized Factory drives operational excellence by improving decision-making through: 

1) Connecting and visualizing worker, material flow and manufacturing processes

 2) Digitizing institutional knowledge 

3) Integrating with customers and suppliers

Hitachi Optimized Factory relies on successful adoption of Industry 4.0 capabilities, integrating process intelligence, connecting existing smart equipment, retrofit instrumenting of other equipment and personnel, advanced analytics and real-time exception notifications.

Making this transition and embracing these technologies takes time. When starting towards an optimized factory, one of the most important first steps is evaluating the available data, identifying missing data and working towards insights on how the factory is currently operating. These data efforts lead, almost immediately, into the IoT imperative and the need for more real-time, faster data insights, predictions and reporting to successfully change the factory experience.

Microsoft Powers Optimized Factory 

Recently, Hitachi Consulting has been active in creating and deploying optimized factory solutions on top of Microsoft’s IoT platform. Microsoft provides one of the most complete IoT platforms on the market with the largest global cloud coverage, and one of the most complete hybrid cloud solutions. These elements are essential to meet the needs and demands of manufacturing companies with global operations.

Successful IoT solutions consist of seven key aspects:

  • Devices, Sensors, and Device Management
  • Gateways, Edge Devices, and Data Ingestion
  • Cold Path Analytics (machine learning)
  • Hot Path Analytics (complex event processing)
  • Data Storage, Big Data, and Advanced Analytics
  • Line-of-Business System Integration
  • Reporting and Dashboards

In addition to these seven major elements, end-to-end security and management are vital in an IoT deployment.

While many IoT vendors focus on a portion of these elements, Microsoft’s Azure platform offers support for all aspects. Microsoft’s platform includes support for not just Microsoft technologies, but includes rich open source support allowing organizations to mix-and-match services as needed from open source or third-party software vendors.

There are three major pieces to the Microsoft platform that are of interest in manufacturing scenarios: 

1) Azure Sphere

Security and data protection are so vital to the Microsoft platform that Microsoft has created a microprocessor design for IoT sensors with end-to-end security and management of those devices. This platform is called Azure Sphere and is available to any sensor manufacturer and can be integrated into any IoT device. While this doesn’t address existing robotics and manufacturing systems, newer equipment can begin to include Azure Sphere support driving major advances in system security and protection.

2) Azure IoT Edge

The Azure IoT Edge technologies allow existing devices with the various protocols that have been used for decades in machine-to-machine communication and newer devices to communicate and aggregate data on-premises before sending the data to the cloud. What makes Azure IoT Edge particularly powerful is the ability to combine both machine learning and complex event processing algorithms developed in Azure back into the IoT Edge processing. These capabilities allow faster responses and reactions to data coming from manufacturing systems as well as ongoing tuning and optimization.

3) Azure Stack

While Microsoft has created 54 global Azure regions, many organizations may still not have coverage in specific parts of the world where business operations are occurring. In addition, many manufacturing organizations require on-premises solutions to adhere to compliance and regulatory requirements. Microsoft has created essentially an on-premises version of Azure called Azure Stack. Azure Stack provides the same services, APIs, scripting support, and tools found in Azure within Azure Stack. This design allows portability of applications, services, and IoT solutions between Azure Stack and the full version of Azure.

Driving Success 

Hitachi Consulting has combined the knowledge and power of Hitachi with new solutions and capabilities to drive success in transforming into an Optimized Factory. Combined with the power of Microsoft’s Azure platform, the Hitachi Optimized Factory solution can help drive smart and optimized factory transformations.