The potential of IoT for industry-centric solutions

Posted on 5 Nov 2020 by The Manufacturer

As manufacturers strive to increase equipment efficiency, drive production quality and tap intelligent supply chains, IoT has become a key enabler. Christoph Berlin and Rik Irons-Mclean reveal how Microsoft is leveraging industry knowledge and technological expertise to democratise the technology.

The UK manufacturing sector is driving innovation through digital technology, addressing key challenges in operational efficiency, supply chain, the workforce and sustainability.

Microsoft is partnering closely with the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC), the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and manufacturing companies to increasingly leverage technologies including data and analytics, digital twin, augmented reality and IoT, to accelerate new outcomes and solve business challenges.

COVID-19 has created additional pressures over the past eight months due to production slowdowns, restrictions on employee movement with social distancing and rapidly shifting market demands, meaning companies have needed to rethink and shift business models and operations.

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The challenges facing the industry (pre, during and likely post-COVID) have been innovating at scale and at pace, in a secure and standardised way. Bringing together deep industry knowledge and technological expertise into a partnership approach is already creating tangible proof-points as seen with the UK Ventilator Challenge.

Manufacturers preparing for the future are rapidly building their operations around a digital core, and in actively integrating their value chain to the whole supply chain, increase efficiency and production capacity.

As companies strive to gather more insight and intelligence into their plant and supply chain operations, IoT has become a key enabler. Microsoft is working hand-in-hand across the sector to help turn the potential of IoT into industry-centric solutions.

In our latest IoT Signals Edition 2 report, insights were brought together from nearly 600 manufacturers across the globe.

Manufacturing decision-makers believe Industrial IoT (IIoT) is vital to compete as it can help with improving efficiency, monitoring quality, improving factory safety and reducing costs by better tracking assets and preventing expensive equipment shutdowns.


By taking small steps here to gain wins in efficiency, future possibilities become much richer as connecting siloed processes to more connected ecosystems drives long-term momentum.

Industrial IoT is moving beyond basic uses

Even with those challenges, manufacturing organisations are embracing emerging IoT technology faster than other industries. For example, manufacturers report having fewer barriers to adding edge computing to their IoT systems.

The technology is most likely to be focused on health and wellness uses, space optimisation and supply chain management.

Additionally, 73% of surveyed manufacturing professionals said they have a strategy for the use of digital twins – digital replicas of real-world things, places, business processes or people that are designed to control, simulate, analyse and improve real-world business operations – within their IoT solutions.

To help address many of the challenges still faced around complexity and resourcing within organisations, Microsoft is striving to simplify and secure broadening capabilities and further democratise IoT.

Knowledge Transfer Partnership - Working together as a team for innovative strategies and creating new ideas and products through lesdership and education represented by two human heads and a lightbulb in the shape of gears and cogs - image courtesy of Depositphotos.

We are in the midst of investing $5bn in IoT and intelligent edge innovation across all industries and technology from the edge to the cloud by 2022.

This is resulting in a rapidly growing number of services and features that offer developers open, flexible choices for development, secure data everywhere and the ability to achieve rapid global growth when it comes time to scale.

Trends driving industrial IoT growth

The top reported uses for IoT by manufacturers in 2020, according to our findings, are to monitor production flow, to automate industrial processes and for production planning and scheduling.

With plans for IoT adoption in manufacturing remaining robust, there are a few challenges and trends influencing its adoption. The key findings are:

  1. Improving efficiency is the primary driver for IoT adoption in manufacturing

Industrial organisations, particularly discrete manufacturers, see increased efficiency in operations, expanded production capacities and better employee productivity as the top benefits of using IoT.

  1. Manufacturing organisations are increasingly using AI as part of their IoT solutions

Among surveyed IoT adopters in manufacturing, 77% reported use of AI in core or secondary uses, to further boost efficiency gains from IoT.

The top reasons given are to improve prescriptive and predictive maintenance of equipment. Another 48% said they’re using AI to improve the online user experience through customer service bots.

  1. Complexity and talent challenges exist and are slowing adoption

Surveyed organisations identified that help bridging the skills gap is a top need. They are seeking employees who have a range of technical abilities, especially system architects and cloud developers, and who can implement IoT as they struggle to bridge the gap on their own.

Manufacturing professionals are looking for employees who can both maintain legacy IT and build new or maintain IoT technology. The lack of skilled human resources and budget remain top challenges preventing discrete manufacturers from adopting IoT at a higher rate.

As a result, IoT projects among these organisations take 13 months on average, compared to 11 months for process manufacturers.

Learn about IoT opportunities for your organisation

Read the full IoT Signals Edition 2 manufacturing report to learn more the opportunities and continued challenges that manufacturing companies see in their IoT journeys:

Start your journey with Azure IoT in discrete manufacturing:, and Azure IoT in process manufacturing:

Christoph Berlin is Partner, Program Management, Industrial IoT Engineering for Microsoft.

Rik Irons-Mclean is Strategy Director, Manufacturing, Energy and Resources for Microsoft.

*All images courtesy of Depositphotos