Microsoft has joined forces with Fujitsu to use Windows 8.1 Pro and an Internet of Things (IoT) platform to improve manufacturing by using cloud and connected technology.
The partnership sees the firms bring together Fujitsu devices running Windows 8.1 Pro with Fujitsu's Cloud A5 for Microsoft Azure and Fujitsu's IoT and machine-to-machine platform.
This combination of technology allows scattered data to be drawn from Microsoft's Azure database for manipulation and analysis through Fujitsu's Eco-Management Dashboard, which provides an interface for the management of product quality, manufacturing processes and equipment performance.
The collaboration stems from a project undertaken by Fujitsu at its Akisai factory in Japan to use sensors and cloud computing to improve the growing of low-potassium lettuce that can be consumed by people on dialysis and with chronic kidney disease.
Microsoft explained that the partnership enables managers, engineers and scientists to track data from the sensors monitoring the plants through data pushed from the Azure cloud onto Windows tablets.
Susan Hauser, corporate vice president at Microsoft's enterprise and partner group, described the effect of the IoT on manufacturing in a Microsoft blog post.
"IoT is now at the forefront of a fourth era in business productivity," she said. "With IoT, companies worldwide are transforming the way they plant crops, assemble goods and maintain machinery."
Rise of the cloud robots
Microsoft also revealed that it has worked with industrial robot creator Kuka Robotics to create a manufacturing robot supported by cloud computing.
The two firms showcased an industrial robot arm at Hanover Messe in Germany which can stream movement data to the Azure cloud. This data can then be monitored on a tablet by human workers overseeing manufacturing.
Kuka's Intelligent Industrial Work Assistant can detect when it encounters a problem during automated manufacturing and call for a skilled human engineer to assist.
Engineers can be contacted through wearable technology such as Microsoft's Band and tablets running Windows.
The robot can use cloud-powered machine learning and a Microsoft Kinect-based vision system to perceive its surroundings and differentiate between skilled and un-skilled workers to ensure that only authorised personnel work with the system.
Status and problem data is pushed into the Azure cloud, and a factory's management can monitor activity and rapidly notify the technology supplier of a problem as soon as it is encountered.
The video below shows the robot in action.
Microsoft is likely to see more of its cloud services embedded in IoT-based systems in manufacturing and beyond, having recently revealed the Azure IoT Suite.
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