Welcome back from the three-day holiday weekend to my U.S. readers. I took time for one post. You just can’t shut off thinking. Here’s an interesting piece that came my way via a different Microsoft source than usual. And nothing from Siemens in the U.S.

Siemens has been working on various aspects of digital manufacturing for many years. I’ve had interviews with high level Siemens automation executives dating back at least five years where they have described their ideas and approaches. Microsoft, similarly, has been anxious to expand its reach into manufacturing. So, here is one of those “you got chocolate in my peanut butter”–“no, you got peanut butter in my chocolate” stories of combining technologies in an interesting way.

Siemens and Microsoft have teamed up to envision a factory production line that uses the latest Windows Embedded technology. Using Siemens industrial automation products running Windows Embedded operating systems, this Proof of Concept (POC) demonstrates end-to-end enterprise connectivity—from data collecting sensors and smart devices on factory floors, to server-based business intelligence applications in IT datacenters. Business benefits for manufacturers include process transparency from material ordering to goods delivery, continual production process optimization, and increased overall factory productivity.

“We are captivated by the endless possibilities that the new Windows Embedded technologies offer. We can’t wait to discuss with industrial users their requirements in using these new possibilities with the next generation of our industrial PCs or HMI and control software,” said Elske Meyer, marketing and promotion manager Simatic PC-based Automation, Siemens AG.

Thinking about customer business and technical requirements, Microsoft and Siemens engineers came together to conceptualize how information could travel from the factory floor to the IT center and back again, creating a beneficial feedback loop that optimizes production resources.

The Siemens industrial automation portfolio ranges from standard products for the manufacturing and process industries to solutions for whole industrial sectors that encompass the automation of entire automobile production facilities and chemical plants.

The Siemens-Microsoft industrial automation POC, which made its global debut at HANNOVER MESSE 2010, features familiar production line stations such as Enterprise Management, Materials Inbound Logistics, Assembly Line, and Quality Assurance.

Users can follow the progress of a customer order from station to station, as it is processed, assembled, and tested. Other user scenarios include Product Lifecycle Management, Safety, Traceability, and Green IT. A mobile handheld device roams and displays the screen of whichever station is nearby.

The entire system runs on Siemens industrial automation products that include different Simatic industrial PC models, such as 19” Rack PCs, Box PCs, embedded PCs, the modular embedded Controller S7-mEC, Mobile Panels, Flat Panel monitors and the failsafe Software PLC SIMATIC WinAC.

Windows Embedded operating systems used for the POC include: Windows Embedded Standard 7 for the specialized devices; Windows Embedded Enterprise for enterprise-class equipment; Windows Embedded CE for the handheld terminal, and Windows Embedded Server for the industrial server appliances.

At the heart of the POC is an end-to-end enterprise connectivity architecture that spans from production line sensors to IT datacenter servers. Real-time access to factory floor data from enterprise applications allows for continuous production process optimization and increases in overall factory productivity. Connecting the supply chain to the factory floor allows for manufacturing process transparency from material ordering, to energy consumption, to goods delivery. Direct data flow also reduces the need for human intervention, which can help minimize production delays.

The industrial automation POC demonstrates endless possibilities of differentiated experiences built with innovative Windows technologies. For example, immersive technologies, such as high fidelity 3D graphics and Natural User Interfaces (NUI), increase the engagement of workers, helping them to be more productive.

Another Microsoft technology, Profile for Web Services (DPWS), allows for dynamic auto-discovery and zero-configuration. This reduces the setup and re-configuration time of factories so they can adapt quicker to changing market demands.

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