BMW and Microsoft launched a technology platform designed to improve manufacturing efficiency, break down traditional barriers between proprietary systems and foster increased cooperation with other industry partners.

BMW manufacturing

Production in the cloud

BMW and Microsoft will base their platform on open standards to facilitate the integration of outside partners (Image: BMW)

The two companies said the “Open Manufacturing Platform (OMP),” which will be built using the Microsoft Azure cloud architecture, will have a technology framework that allows a wide range of partners to participate. Those partners can be other automakers, suppliers and companies from outside the automotive industry.

“The interconnection of production sites and systems as well as the secure integration of partners and suppliers are particularly important,” said Oliver Zipse, who heads production at the Munich-based premium car manufacturer.”

Microsoft executive vice-president Scott Guthrie added in a press release that the project “will create new opportunities for collaboration across the entire manufacturing value chain.” 

The announcement follows news from Volkswagen Group last week that it will build a digital manufacturing platform with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

BMW said the integrated approach should speed up the implementation of newly designed processes, especially those that are based on data.

Zipse said OMP is the next step in BMW’s three-year-old strategy to move more core processes to the cloud.

BMW’s existing group IoT platform, which is also built on Microsoft Azure’s cloud, already connects more than 3,000 machines, robots and autonomous transport systems within the carmaker’s operations.

The platform is, among other things, used for autonomous transport systems at BMW’s Regenburg, Germany, plant. That implementation has helped simplify logistics processes at the plant.

BMW said it would share the expertise it has built up in its own platform with the OMP community, while retaining ownership of its pre-existing intellectual property (IP) and data. As examples of use cases to be shared, it listed  digital feedback loops, digital supply chain management and predictive maintenance.

Open standards

BMW and Microsoft said OMP will be designed to address industrial challenges such as machine connectivity and systems integration. One of the goals will be to reuse and share software with partners, which would greatly reduce implementations costs.

OMP will use an industrial interoperability standard called OPC UA, which will make the platform compatible with the existing Industry 4.0 reference architecture.

Stefan Hoppe, CEO of the OPC Foundation, said this will help industrial partners move away from proprietary, closed ecosystems and more easily integrate existing equipment and systems in plants. “This is very good news for the manufacturing industry,” he said in a press statement.

BMW and Microsoft said “a minimum of 15 use cases” for the new platform are expected to be rolled out in various production environments by the end of 2019.