Microsoft and BMW Group have announced a new open manufacturing platform targeted at smart factories in automotive and other industries.

They claim the move will enable faster, more cost-effective innovation in the manufacturing sector where production and profitability can be hindered by complex, proprietary systems that create data silos and slow productivity.

"The Open Manufacturing Platform (OMP) is designed to break down these barriers through the creation of an open technology framework and cross-industry community," the companies said in a statement.

"The goal is to significantly accelerate future industrial IoT developments, shorten time to value and drive production efficiencies while addressing common industrial challenges."

The platform is built on Microsoft Azure's industrial IoT cloud and provides reference architecture with open source components based on open industrial standards and an open data model.

As well as encouraging collaboration, this platform approach is designed to unlock and standardise data models that enable analytics and machine learning scenarios  traditionally managed in proprietary systems. Using industrial use cases and sample code, participants will have the capability to develop their own services and products while maintaining control over their data.

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BMW currently has over 3,000 machines, robots and autonomous transport systems connected with its IoT platform, already built on the Azure cloud with IoT and AI capabilities, and plans to contribute relevant initial use cases to what it calls "the OMP community".

An example is use of the IoT platform for second generation autonomous transport systems in the Group plant in Regensburg, Germany. This use case has enabled the group to greatly simplify its logistics processes via central coordination of the transport system, creating greater efficiency. This and other use cases, such as digital feedback loops, digital supply chain management and predictive maintenance, will be made available and developed further within the OMP community.

BMW production chief Oliver Zipse said: "We want to make our solutions available to other companies and jointly leverage potential."

The OMP will be designed to address common challenges such as machine connectivity and on-premises systems integration. This will facilitate the reuse of software among OEMs, suppliers and other partners, significantly reducing startup costs. An ROS-based robotics standard for autonomous transport systems for production and logistics will be contributed to the OMP for everyone to use. The OMP will be compatible with the existing Industry 4.0 reference architecture, leveraging the industrial interoperability standard OPC UA.

Stefan Hoppe, president and CEO of the OPC Foundation, said: "The use of open international industry standards in the OMP community enables manufacturers, machine builders and suppliers to integrate their existing equipment and systems efficiently and securely. For a long time, companies have promoted proprietary, closed ecosystems — the OMP commitment to open development will shape tomorrow's manufacturing."

The underlying platform will continue to evolve over time, along with manufacturing requirements, to incorporate new innovations including areas of analytics, artificial intelligence and digital feedback loops. 

Recruitment of additional partners is under way. The OMP Advisory Board is expected to be in operation with an initial set of four to six partners in place and a minimum of 15 use cases shared amongst production environments by the end of 2019.

Other manufacturers and suppliers, including companies from outside the automotive industry, are being invited join the community.