You are probably familiar with the company Procter & Gamble—often referred to as simply P&G. The company has been around for nearly two centuries, and it owns a wide array of iconic brands that essentially define their markets—Pampers diapers, Tide laundry detergent, Bounty paper towel, Charmin toilet paper, Gilette razors, and more. When you think of P&G, one thing that probably does not come immediately to mind is digital transformation—but P&G is working with Microsoft to transform manufacturing.

Microsoft and P&G

Last week, Microsoft and P&G announced a new multiyear collaboration effort that will leverage the Microsoft Cloud to develop new innovations and create the future of digital manufacturing for P&G.

“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, in a joint Microsoft and P&G press release announcing the relationship.

P&G believes the collaborative effort will allow for better utilization of data, AI (artificial intelligence) capabilities, and digital twins technology. It expects to optimize manufacturing environmental sustainability efforts and increase workforce efficiency and productivity.

“With Azure as its foundation, our new collaboration will enable us to digitally connect P&G manufacturing sites around the globe. We will be able to collect, integrate and analyze data from machines and sensors at over 100 sites, build machine learning models and deploy at the edge to enhance the predictive quality of manufacturing equipment and better manage supply chain efficiency and resiliency,” shared Cretella, in a post on LinkedIn. “We’re leveraging data on a scale that has never been done before, and creating capabilities that haven’t previously existed, to enhance the predictive quality of manufacturing equipment and manage supply chain efficiency. These advancements constructively disrupt the norms of manufacturing to transform how we operate and help us deliver the highest quality, with the greatest consistency, for our consumers.”

The initial focus for Microsoft and P&G has been diaper and paper towel manufacturing. The joint press release describes the issues being addressed, and how the collaboration between the two will streamline and improve digital manufacturing:

Diapers and data: Quality control and process improvements

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P&G is making advancements in its diaper manufacturing process to reduce manufacturing downtime, minimize scrap and lower maintenance expenses by automatically detecting and resolving the largest causes of line stops and rework using machine learning. The production of diapers involves assembling many layers of material at high speed with great precision to ensure optimal absorbency, superior leak protection and outstanding comfort. The new IIoT platform uses machine telemetry and high-speed analytics to continuously monitor production lines to provide early detection and prevention of potential issues in the material flow. This improves cycle time, reduces rework losses and ensures quality, while simultaneously improving operator productivity.

Pioneering paper towels

In a pilot with Microsoft, P&G can now better predict finished paper towel sheet lengths, improving the ability to deliver the right amount of product to the consumer. With the new IIoT platform, P&G can collect data from sensors on the manufacturing line and use technologies like advanced algorithms, machine learning and predictive analytics so it can improve manufacturing efficiencies.

The Future of Digital Manufacturing

I had a chance to chat with Judson Althoff, Microsoft EVP and Chief Commercial Officer, and April Cielica, SVP of Global Business Services at P&G, about the partnership, and the broader vision driving it.

I asked April to share what initially drove P&G to pursue this project. “At P&G we strive to understand and solve the problems consumers face in their daily lives. Connecting business strategy with technology opportunities across all dimensions of our business – digitizing the business – is one way we are doing this. This collaboration with Microsoft is a great example of that.”

Cielica continued, “P&G and Microsoft both share a passion for data and AI and are working together to find innovative ways to apply those capabilities to transform the work we do together. This new collaboration uses Microsoft Azure data and AI solutions to optimize our manufacturing and packaging processes. As a result, we’ll bring superior P&G products to consumers faster.”

“Digital work has accelerated innovation in many, many ways,” explained Althoff. “Whilst no business is 100% resilient, we’re finding that those that are fortified with some level of digital capability are more resilient than others. And that’s also playing into this notion of perseverance as we look forward through the times we face that are pretty uncertain—with inflation on the rise, and with wars in Europe, and with still the concern that the pandemic may not be over. This notion of investing for innovation is a way of helping a company lean forward and persevere through uncertain times.”

Blazing Trails and the Industrial Metaverse

Companies of all sizes and from all industries around the world are facing challenging times right now, but in the realm of manufacturing consumer goods there is even more intense inflationary pressure putting stress on the market. Now, more than ever, these companies need to find ways to manufacture more efficiently and cost effectively.

That is where the relationship between Microsoft and P&G blazes an innovative new frontier. Traditionally, everything in the manufacturing process has a cost. It creates a carbon footprint. It produces waste. Even the slightest inefficiency in the manufacturing process or business runs the risk of severely impacting both the bottom line and the environment. With the Microsoft Cloud, though, P&G can simulate the manufacturing environment in the cloud—combine metrics and feedback from real-world manufacturing facilities, and enable P&G to model different scenarios or analyze how changes in process or tweaks in the system will play out.

Althoff described it in terms of an industrial metaverse. “If you think about these two things that I’ve talked about—the idea of being able to holographically teleport into any environment to remotely assist people for training purposes or for remote management and operations, as well as this digital twin construct where we can model any process from end-to-end virtually. You put those two things together into what we’re calling the industrial metaverse. It allows you to leverage these technologies to fully simulate manufacturing and supply chain environments from end-to-end before you ever construct them in the physical realm.”

Innovating the Future

The collaboration between Microsoft and P&G is still in its early stages—but P&G expressed that they are pleased with the progress so far. It has started with diapers and paper towels, but P&G makes hundreds of products at facilities around the world, so that is just the beginning.

Cielica stated, “P&G is already innovating and using Azure IoT Hub and IoT Edge to help manufacturing technicians analyze insights with greater speed and efficiency, creating improvements in the production of our baby care and paper products with pilot projects happening in Egypt, India, Japan and the United States. The goal is to expand these efforts over time as we learn together.”

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