Just as manufacturing has seen huge benefits from Lean, automation and advanced IT, Artificial Intelligence promises to be the next breakthrough in productivity improvement..
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to enhance and extend the capabilities of humans, and help businesses achieve more, faster and more efficiently.
Though by no means a new concept, several more recent developments have enabled AI to cross into the mainstream: namely, cloud computing, big data, and improved machine learning algorithms.
AI-driven analytics and real-time insights have already begun to help businesses grow their revenues and market shares faster than their peers in industries as diverse as healthcare, finance, utilities and ecommerce.
The Manufacturer’s found that 92% of senior manufacturing executives believe that ‘Smart Factory’ digital technologies – including Artificial Intelligence – will enable them to increase their productivity levels and empower staff to work smarter.
A positive outlook for the future, perhaps, but uncertainty still exists. A recent survey by Boston Consulting Group found that a significant gap lies between an organisation’s ‘ambition and execution’, with only one in five companies incorporating AI into one or more of their processes.
Similarly, global research firm, Forrester says that 58% of business and technology professionals are researching AI systems, yet only 12% are actively using them.
So, to learn more about the opportunities Artificial Intelligence holds for manufacturing organisations, The Manufacturer spoke with Jamie Hall, senior solutions specialist for Microsoft.
How much and how fast will AI transform the manufacturing industry?
Jamie Hall: Manufacturers around the world are rapidly investing in the Internet of Things (IoT) to create new products and services, while driving down production costs over the longer term.
This transformation is changing the way companies think about how they engage their customers, empower their employees and optimise their operations.
However, delivering IoT is only part of the journey to achieving manufacturing excellence. For companies to realise the full potential of IoT, they need to combine the data collected from connected devices with rapidly advancing Artificial Intelligence to enable ‘smart machines’.
These will, in turn, simulate intelligent behaviour with little or no human intervention.
Predominantly, the AI in smart machines currently manages the more traditional repetitive tasks; however, this is advancing very quickly. The ability of AI to adapt to continuously changing tasks will move quickly into the mainstream, I expect.
This will be a paradigm shift from assisted intelligence swinging all the way across to full autonomous intelligence where machines are able to learn enough to make recommendations that humans can trust.
Besides smart machines on the shop floor, the use of AI and big data will be huge over the coming five years with dependable algorithms being used in all areas of an operation from weather prediction for the shipping of raw materials through to predictive maintenance of the resulting product.
How do you think that disruption will affect business operations and strategy?
Applying AI to manufacturing requires some key foundational technologies to be in place. A smart factory will need to be networked, taking data from production lines, design & engineering teams, and quality control to form an integrated, intelligent operation.
If manufacturers don’t have the right smart machines and the right data collection points, it’s just data with little or no insight, and insight is what creates world class optimised operations.
Industrial companies will need to become digital companies to survive as the asset and customer become increasingly more centric to their operations.
The days of a linear journey form sourcing product through to the on-going support have gone. Creating a 360-degree view of the customer and being able to bring the product to the centre of the operations and understanding intimately how a product is used brings huge benefits from new product development through to improved go to market models.
Each of these will, of course, add data collection points for AI, machine learning and cognitive services to advance the operation and ultimately the customer experience.
What are the key benefits AI offers to a manufacturing organisation?
With the right foundations in place manufacturers will see AI make many more informed decisions at each stage in the production process in real time.
In the case of production, we will see sensors spotting defects on the production line. The data is then fed to the cloud to verify, which will immediately remove the defective part
from the line and order a replacement all while calculating in real-time just-in-time schedules.
With real-time problem-solving, manufacturers can potentially save millions of pounds in recalls, repairs and lost business.
As use cases continue to evolve, AI will be pivotal in all areas of an organisation from fraud prevention to predictive ordering and opportunity assessment; all of which bring time, productivity and cost benefits which can be passed onto the customer.
Each one of these intelligent insights will turn information into tangible outcomes.
What are the future AI trends and/or developments manufacturers should be aware of?
As AI becomes more mainstream within organisations, a trust and dependability will surface which brings a level of intelligence that becomes mission critical to organisations.
As businesses build their own technology foundations through the use of technology, the advancement to de-centralised AI – where AI solutions can speak at every level of the supply chain from customers through to vendors, data sharing and decision-making will be performed immediately where it would have taken teams of people days and weeks to replicate.
As more emerging technologies come to the fore including Blockchain, Augmented Reality and AI, the inevitable convergence of these trends will happen quickly, and manufacturers should look to embrace and invest now.
Disrupters stand to gain the most from these new and exciting technologies.
Key takeaway for leaders in manufacturing to think about:
With data being the core ingredient for AI, big data and machine learning, more considered thought needs to be made on who owns the data, whether it is collected from IoT-enabled devices or not.
This is often overlooked, yet the outcomes can only occur with lots of it and therefore holds the biggest value for all manufacturers. The decision we make now will have a profound impact on the future.