Today’s manufacturers are operating in an ever-evolving, increasingly complex landscape, navigating massively fragmented global supply chains, constantly shifting compliance regulations, unpredictable weather patterns and natural disasters, and disruptive trends — all while taking into account shifting consumer expectations.
With so many details to keep track of, just one moment of negligence can have major consequences, making advanced technologies increasingly valuable for ensuring success in the long run.
Spurred by the technological advances of Industry 4.0, the manufacturing sector has become increasingly cutting-edge through the use of sensors, robotics, digitization, and other innovations that continue to transform the way industry operates. And now, manufacturing is reaching the next stage of technological evolution, centered on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).
Key Advantages of Implementing AI Into Manufacturing Operations
AI allows huge amounts of data to be processed and analyzed much more efficiently and accurately than any human is capable of. Imagine staring at an abstract painting riddled with an immeasurable number of jagged lines and a seemingly endless array of colors. While your eyes may only perceive a bedlam of color and clutter, AI tools can immediately identify the patterns hidden within the painting.
AI tools are able to discern these patterns on both micro and macro levels, and can actually learn over time. The more data consumed, the more information provided to you.
Luckily, there’s always an extensive supply of data to keep AI tools well fed. Business has become increasingly digitized over the past few decades, meaning more and more metrics can now be monitored. By analyzing this data, and, more importantly, the patterns hidden within it, AI can be used to develop solutions and ideas for a wide range of applications, such as:
- Monitoring and analyzing e-commerce buying behaviors, as well as shifting market trends
- Evaluating costs and pricing patterns at a rapid rate, empowering manufacturers to make insightful financial decisions in the blink of an eye
- Solving system problems before they even occur by using sensors and the IoT to create digital twins, which use virtual reality to replicate physical systems in order to monitor equipment performance and determine future maintenance needs
- Analyzing equipment data in order to schedule predictive maintenance services on an as-needed basis, as opposed to wasting time and money with unnecessary, unspecific preventative maintenance or repair services
- Generating design concepts based on cost restrictions, objectives, material characteristics, manufacturing methods, and more
- Creating multiple design variations based on specified criteria
Plus, unlike humans, AI can handle data-intensive analytical tasks at maximum efficiency 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — allowing for significant time savings while greatly reducing the chance of error.
While there’s been a lot of coverage examining how AI may replace humans as the dominant “species” in the workforce, it’s far more likely that AI will provide more opportunities for humans than it will destroy, increasing worker productivity and creating a need for different types of skills. While it may seem we’re living in unprecedented times, many experts point to the fact that technology has been used throughout history to handle repetitive or labor-intensive tasks, creating new markets and new jobs in the process.
Integrating AI Into Your Manufacturing Operations
As with other forms of disruptive technological innovation, perhaps futurist Jim Carroll put it best when he said, “Think big, start small, scale fast!”
“Thinking big” refers to the process of figuring out how AI fits within your company’s values and goals, as well as how it will impact growth in the long run. By understanding and defining your company’s long-term priorities and needs, and matching these goals with customized AI methods, your business can start to develop a roadmap that uses AI as a compass to guide you toward those goals.
From there, “starting small” involves identifying areas within your business that can be improved through innovation, and taking on small, manageable projects that utilize AI. By starting small, companies can create a sturdy foundation on which to build a strong, larger-scale system while avoiding the issues that come along with hasty implementation.
Then, as you start to master the art of AI and get familiar with its various uses, you’ll be able to “scale quickly,” using the roadmap developed during the “think big” stage. Using this plan, companies can determine the next areas for AI integration.
As with other technological innovations that came before it, AI has the power to fully transform the way manufacturing companies operate and interact with the market. Unlike static systems that become obsolete after a certain amount of time, AI continues to prove its worth, becoming increasingly intuitive and sophisticated as technologies evolve.
Able to consume and analyze massive amounts of data, AI can serve as an invaluable tool for risk mitigation applications while bringing about new opportunities for growth. As AI technologies continue to advance, manufacturers the world over will be keeping an eye on its progress — and the many ways their operations can benefit from these new productivity- and efficiency-boosting tools.
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