Fujitsu in 2014 announced it was turning what had once been semiconductor clean rooms in a former manufacturing plant in Japan into farms that would grow hydroponic lettuce.
Converting the Akisai Plant Factory into a facility that leverages cutting-edge agricultural techniques was a way of both creating low-potassium lettuce that could be eaten by patients undergoing dialysis treatment or are suffering from kidney disease as well as showing farmers what they can do by incorporating IT in their work.
To help run the facility, Fujitsu brought together its Eco-Management Dashboard—a platform for the Internet of things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications—and hardware devices with Microsoft's Windows operating system and Azure cloud services. The combination of the technologies gave Fujitsu workers at the site greater visibility into the environment and the ability to collect and analyze the data in real time, according to Fujitsu officials.
The solution included machine learning and business intelligence, and enabled better product management, quality management and efficiency, they said.
Now the two IT vendors are partnering to bring solutions based on their respective technologies to manufacturing environments, enabling businesses to gain the same benefits from the IoT, according to officials with both companies. They announced the partnership April 12 at the Hannover Messe 2015 event in Germany. The IoT, and what it can do for businesses, was a key focus at the show, according to Susan Hauser, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Enterprise and Partner Group.
"Everywhere we look there are examples of physical assets integrated with processes, systems and people, and exciting possibilities are being fueled by this transformation," Hauser wrote in a post on the Microsoft blog. "One thing that will become clear this week: IoT is cutting across a wider range of industries than we've seen in the past."
She pointed to the efforts by Fujitsu at the Akisai Plant Factory, noting that employees there "can track all of the plant info from their Windows tablets through the cloud. These solutions will also be able to help other agriculture and manufacturing companies transform their businesses through innovation."
The Microsoft and Fujitsu partnership will bring together Fujitsu devices running Windows 8.1 Pro, the IoT services of Fujitsu's Cloud A5 for Microsoft Azure and the hardware maker's IoT/M2M platform. The combination of the technologies will enable users to streamline systems, improve functionality and product quality, and reduce costs, officials with both companies said.
It worked for Fujitsu in its lettuce-growing facility, according to Hiroyuki Sakai, corporate executive officer, executive vice president and head of global marketing at Fujitsu.
"Leveraging the Fujitsu Eco-Management Dashboard solution alongside Microsoft Azure and the Fujitsu IoT/M2M platform, we are able to deliver real-time visualization of the engineering process for big data analytics to improve the entire production process and inform decision-making," he said.
Now Microsoft and Fujitsu officials want to bring those capabilities to other manufacturers. The solution enables data coming from multiple sources to be input into the Microsoft Azure database, than evaluated via analytics and natural user interfaces, the companies said. The Eco-Management Dashboard manages product quality, process efficiency and equipment performance, which can result in improved operations and lower costs.
In her Microsoft blog, Hauser also noted other partnerships Microsoft has made in relation to the IoT, including with Kuka, which makes industrial robots and automation products, and Miele, which makes high-end domestic appliances.