The possibilities of tomorrow’s factories are truly limitless as traditional manufacturing and industrial practices are shaken up by modern technology.
Driven by The Internet of Things, The Cloud, Blockchain, AI, and VR/AR -- to name but a few -- The Fourth Industrial Revolution is expected to produce machines which analyze and diagnose issues with ultimately no paperwork.
It is certainly an exciting development in manufacturing and one which The Microsoft User Group Lyon looks to be at the forefront of. The French group launched Smart Factory initiatives in 2016, an open-source project featuring Microsoft Lab Experiences.
Today, the collaborative platform acts as a mini-factory for enthusiasts to unleash their collective intelligence on new technologies which can be deployed at scale into production factories. The communal project looks to develop tomorrow’s smart factories with hands-on code which can be used and improved by anyone.
Microsoft Azure MVP and Microsoft User Group Lyon Lead Vincent Thavonekham says the platform has evolved into a repository of true industrial 4.0 devices which provide use cases and connect to real industrial equipment.
“Currently, we have more than 100 contributors with various talents. This gives us collective insight on broad topics like 3D Blender, marketing, coding, cartooning, photographs, philosophy, and more!”
Vincent, who is also one of the co-founders of Azure User Group France and a Microsoft Regional Director, says the project provides tangible feedback that goes beyond gadgets so that people can have an illustration of real-life examples on physical industrial equipment.
One successful project, for example, leverages Azure Custom Vision and its object detection capabilities to automatically flag anomalies on a Schneider Electric apparatus. Another project, meanwhile, uses drones to process 42 billion laser dots along 450 kilometres of railroad tracks from Paris to Lyon. Using French tech company VISEO's custom data model and Azure IoT Edge, the data is now prepared for upload to the Cloud in days instead of weeks.
Further, this solution was used in a real-world scenario by Altametris, a subsidiary of SNCF Réseau. The project analyzed the Cloud data to track and maintain its railroad assets remotely to reduce expenses and increase safety. Special photographic processing on data collected from the drone, meanwhile, enabled teams to view the welds and bolts on bridges to achieve digital inspection rather than manual inspection. Finally, dynamic visualization enabled long-term predictions to be made, like how tall trees would grow under the railway in 20 years, and whether or not they would create safety hazards.
These are next-generation insights which are made possible, Vincent says, thanks to the flexibility of Microsoft’s AI technologies.
“I love the fact that Microsoft brought to the masses such sophisticated technologies, and these technologies also have the ability to allow AI experts to have the freedom to use their own techniques with open-source tools,” he says.
With Smart Factory only growing from strength to strength, Vincent says it is a very exciting time to develop Industry 4.0 solutions with other like-minded MVPs, RDs, teachers, directors, job seekers, trainees, enthusiasts, teenagers and more.
“I love that [as an MVP] I can count on the help of a friendly community that is always ready at any time and in any country,” Vincent says. “[Being an MVP] is like a badge which opens many doors that I wouldn’t have dared to open otherwise.”