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Mars makes plans for cloud-based ‘factories of the future’

05 October, 2022

Mars, the global manufacturer of confectionery, food, and pet care products, which employs more than 140,000 people in more than 80 countries, has announced plans for a new cloud-based platform for its manufacturing, data-handling and artificial intelligence (AI) operations that will lay the foundation for its vision of the “factory of the future”.

It has reached an agreement with the services supplier Accenture under which they will work together to apply digital twin technologies and models to Mars’ manufacturing facilities globally. This will give Mars’ operators real-time insights into current and predicted performance of their production lines. Mars, whose annual sales are worth almost $45bn, plans to apply these technologies to “dozens” of sites over the coming three years.

Over the next two years, Accenture and Mars plan to create the new cloud platform that will support next-generation robotics, AI and automation capabilities at the edge, making Mars’ manufacturing operations much more efficient and addressing sustainability goals such as water stewardship and reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our collaboration with Accenture – combined with our partnership with Microsoft – enables us to scale digital twin technology to reach this goal, delivering not just significant cost savings and sustainability, but preparing our manufacturing operations for the future of work,” says Mars Wrigley vice-president and global chief information officer, William Beery.

Digital twins are virtual representations of machines, products or processes. Fed with real-time data, they can predict and optimise production processes and equipment performance, improving reliability, quality and energy efficiency. Applying digital twins to its manufacturing plants will allow Mars to simulate and validate the results of product and factory adjustments before needing to allocate time and resources.

“We at Mars are constantly looking for innovative and sustainable ways to create value in our end-to-end supply chain, and digital manufacturing is a key priority,” explains Thiago Veiga, senior director of digital supply, R&D and procurement at the family-owned business, whose brands include Wrigley, Skittles, Snickers, M&M’s, Dolmio, Pedigree and Whiskas.

Accenture will bring cloud, engineering, manufacturing and supply chain capabilities to the project. It will also work with Microsoft to apply its Azure cloud platform, along with its own edge accelerators.

“The problems we’re solving aren’t new,” says Simon Osborne, a managing director at Accenture, who is leading the digital twin work with Mars. “What’s new is how we use advanced technologies to get real-time data into operators’ hands and apply AI to help them make decisions before problems occur. While many companies are beginning to experiment with digital twins, what sets this project apart is the speed and scaling of the technology across Mars’ operations globally.”

Mars plans to transform and modernise its global manufacturing operations with AI, cloud, edge computing and digital twin technologies.
Photo: Business Wire

The new agreement between Mars and Accenture builds on an earlier trial of digital twins at Mars’ manufacturing operations that began in late 2020. The companies tested using a digital twin to reduce over-filling of packages – a common problem in the food industry. The digital twin gave Mars a bird’s-eye view of production lines at a factory in Illinois. The twin fed sensor data from manufacturing machinery into a predictive analytics model, allowing operators to monitor events in real-time and adjust the filling process accordingly.

After the successful initial trial, Accenture and Mars have introduced similar technologies across the US and developed similar systems for Mars’ pet care businesses in Europe and China.

“Our work with Mars is about using the power of data, cloud and edge computing to modernise factories, boost business agility in response to change, and put power in the hands of Mars Associates so they can make informed decisions faster,” says Larry Thomas, a senior managing director at Accenture, who is the company’s account lead for Mars.

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