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Shannon Flynn

Microsoft Corp. and Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G) announced a major new collaboration effort on June 8 that will advance P&G’s digital manufacturing capabilities. P&G will utilize Microsoft Cloud, Industrial IoT (IIoT), and other technologies developed by the team at Microsoft. This groundbreaking collaboration effort comes in the midst of an unprecedented supply chain crisis and supply shortages throughout the United States.

Microsoft provided some insights into the collaboration effort with P&G in a press release. “Together with Microsoft, P&G intends to make manufacturing smarter by enabling scalable predictive quality, predictive maintenance, controlled release, touchless operations and manufacturing sustainability optimization — which has not been done at this scale in the manufacturing space to date,” said P&G CIO Vittorio Cretella.

Microsoft is certainly taking on a challenge. P&G owns 65 individual brands across 10 different product categories, producing millions of items per year. P&G’s personal care products are in high demand and short supply today, particularly baby products. Microsoft will be digitizing 100 different manufacturing sites for P&G, which may help them catch up with supply shortages.

Digital manufacturing goals

Microsoft and P&G have outlined some specific goals for their collaborative digitization initiative. The project will incorporate Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s hybrid cloud computing platform. This will allow AI, machine learning, and IIoT technologies to be seamlessly integrated into P&G’s existing infrastructure.

Microsoft’s digital manufacturing system will give P&G’s team access to real-time data and AI models that will be able to help optimize and streamline production. The two companies plan to use digital twins, as well, which will give them a sandbox in which to develop improved manufacturing systems. All around, improving efficiency and productivity are the core goals of the collaboration. These qualities are needed now more than ever to quell supply shortages.

WAN, digitalMicrosoft and P&G specifically mentioned initiatives to use digital manufacturing to improve the production of diapers and paper towels. Microsoft’s IIoT platform will play a key role in these efforts by increasing visibility in the manufacturing process. P&G hopes to reduce waste and cut back on maintenance and downtime. Using Microsoft’s machine learning tools, P&G will optimize energy usage from its paper machines and track performance for predictive maintenance.

A step in the right direction 

Only time will tell whether or not Microsoft and P&G are successful. This is one of the largest digital manufacturing projects in recent years. So, if the collaboration does live up to the goals and initiatives announced so far, it will be a major development for U.S. manufacturing across all industries. If a company as large as P&G can nail down a digital manufacturing strategy that works, any company can.

This collaboration comes as supply chain challenges create detrimental shortages of everything from semiconductors to diapers and toilet paper. The transportation industry is facing its own difficulties, including federal court decisions and regulatory updates, as well as serious staffing shortages that are making it difficult for trucking companies to keep up with supply chain needs. On one end of the supply chain, manufacturers can’t seem to produce goods fast enough while, on the other end, transportation companies can’t get goods where they need to go fast enough, whether over land or sea.

Digital manufacturing is the key to, hopefully, solving the former issue. The Biden administration has announced plans to increase funding and support for U.S .manufacturing in both the private and public sectors. Their priorities include building “technological leadership” for manufacturers large and small. So, the collaboration between Microsoft and P&G may yet be the first of many similar collaborations over the coming months and years.

The past few years have certainly been difficult for manufacturers in the U.S. and around the world. Supply chain issues are hitting particularly hard for things like electronics, computer chips, and family care products. In order for U.S. manufacturers to catch up with demand, they need to leverage the advantages of digital manufacturing. The large-scale collaboration forged between Microsoft and P&G is paving the way for other manufacturers to innovate. The road ahead for U.S. manufacturers is one that will need cutting-edge technology and partnerships like this to evolve.

Author: Barbara Jorgensen

Barb Jorgensen is editor-in-chief for supply chain publication EPSNews and has covered electronics manufacturing, procurement and business for more than 25 years. Barb spent most of her career with Electronic Business magazine and EBN; freelanced; and then founded online publication EPSNews with two industry veterans—Bolaji Ojo and Gina Roos. EPSNews was acquired by AspenCore in 2017.