Longstanding Partnership with Microsoft Enables P&G to Increase its Operational and Sustainability Ambitions

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By Michael Larner | 3Q 2022 | IN-6593

Proctor & Gamble (P&G) is looking to Microsoft to help improve the performance of its equipment and products, as well as contribute to its goal of becoming carbon neutral.

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Partnership Does Not Lack Ambition


Procter & Gamble (P&G), the owner of eponymous consumer brands, such as Charmin, Gillette, Head & Shoulders, Lenor, and Pampers, announced on June 8, 2022 a wide-ranging partnership with Microsoft that looks to upgrade the digital manufacturing capabilities at its factories around the world by expanding the use of Microsoft Azure, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) at the facilities. In particular, the firms will work on improving productivity, quality levels, and sustainability, as well as reducing costs. 

Optimizing Operations with Edge and Analytics


P&G is looking to align people, equipment, assets, workflows, and business processes (in other words, the carpeted and non-carpeted areas of the business) to provide the company with operational resiliency and, ultimately, increased sales and profits.

The first priority is to use Microsoft Azure to digitize and integrate data from more than 100 manufacturing sites around the world (an extremely ambitious undertaking) and then enhance the data with AI, Machine Learning (ML) and edge computing services to deliver real-time visibility into the operations. The visibility will build resiliency into the firm’s operations by supporting predictive maintenance of equipment and optimizing production with the goal of minimizing the human touch points.

Pilot projects already under way concern the production of baby care and paper products. P&G factories in Egypt, India, Japan, and the United States are using Azure IoT Hub and IoT Edge to reduce the time required for manufacturing technicians to analyze insights and recommend improvements. The analysis covers making sure production levels match demand and quality requirements. In the case of paper towels, the technicians need to understand the factors affecting the length of paper towels produced to ensure they can fit the packaging correctly and for baby diapers to ensure absorption, leak protection, and comfort.

In terms of the IIoT, P&G plans to incorporate data collected, via machine telemetry, from sensors on the manufacturing line with algorithms, ML, and predictive analytics. The objective being to improve manufacturing efficiencies by providing early detection and prevention of potential defects to reduce scrap levels and equipment downtime, improving quality and productivity. Furthermore, the Microsoft Azure platform will deliver event summary data concerning production runs, downtime, and changeovers times.

It is hoped that deploying Microsoft Azure, AI, and the IIoT will underpin P&G’s efforts to accommodate volatility in consumer demand, the availability of ingredients and raw materials, and supply chain pressures.

Setting up for Success


P&G’s data integration strategy is rare in the consumer goods market because many other large consumer goods firms, such as Unilever and PepsiCo, operate as an owner of a brand portfolio with marketing being the key focus and production the focus of the individual brand units. By looking to have an overarching data infrastructure to support production optimization, P&G will need to reconcile the diverse types of equipment and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) present in the manufacturing facilities, standardize on data collection protocols, and make sure the data collected are compatible. All these issues will need to be resolved for projects to operate at scale.

But P&G has many company-wide sustainability projects that can only be achieved by taking a holistic approach, such as optimizing energy and water consumption across its plants to reduce the firm’s carbon footprint as part of the company’s 2040 carbon neutrality goal. One example is using data analytics to identify opportunities to improve energy efficiency of the paper machines in the Family Care division. Another is reducing water extraction by the manufacturing facilities and the amount of water required when using P&G’s products, especially in water-stressed areas, such as Los Angeles and Mexico City.

A critical step to support data integration and scale the projects across the company is the establishment of a Digital Enablement Office (DEO), which is staffed with experts from both P&G and Microsoft. The intention is for the DEO to work on high-priority manufacturing and packaging processes that need to be implemented across P&G.

Manufacturers need to have a long-term vision to achieve their lofty ambitions. In addition, it takes time for the benefits from digital transformation to accrue. P&G has taken and continues to take its time in underpinning its corporative objectives with digital technologies, the partnership with Microsoft is the result of the firms collaborating over a 4-year period.