Microsoft, BMW launch industrial cloud technology partnership

The joint project seeks to stimulate innovation and accelerate the development of ‘smart’ factories

BMW has big plans for its iNext electric and fully autonomous vehicle, but making the car will require a streamlined, coordinated, and automated manufacturing system — something Microsoft wants to help them build. Thus, on Tuesday during the Hannover Messe, the companies announced a partnership to launch a new open-sourced industrial manufacturing platform called the Open Manufacturing Platform, or OMP.

The OMP is based on Microsoft's Azure IoT cloud platform, which BMW already uses to run its more than 3,000 machines at 30 production and assembly sites around the world and it's all about creating the ultimate "smart factory." To achieve automated, connected machines, the sample code for one product - say, a self-driving component - will be available in the open-sourced reference platform. With everything open and available, different teams and eventually other companies can piggyback off proven systems. This means that such platform could be useful to build self-driving systems in a simplified and more cost-efficient way and could eventually help with other things, like digital supply chain management and predictive maintenance.

“Microsoft is joining forces with the BMW Group to transform digital production efficiency across the industry,” Scott Guthrie, executive vice president, Microsoft Cloud + AI Group, said of the alliance.

“Our commitment to building an open community will create new opportunities for collaboration across the entire manufacturing value chain,” he continued.

The partnership between Microsoft and BMW is the second alliance of its kind in a week after VW and Amazon Web Services teamed up to connect the German car maker’s 122 group plants to improve production systems and processes. Yet, both deals reflect a push by ‘hyperscale’ cloud computing providers to capture and manage the terabytes of data thrown off by the network of connected devices such as robots and sensors that make up the so-called Internet of Things (IoT).

According to plans, another four to six companies are expected to use OMP by the end of the year, as well. Even companies that aren't building self-driving cars can join what the OMP is calling its "community."

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