What does AI mean for the future of manufacture?
Source – telegraph.co.uk
The world is on the brink of the fourth industrial revolution, and it could change the way we use everything from cars to shoes.
The first three industrial revolutions brought us mechanisation, mass production and automation. Now, more than half a century after the first robots worked on production lines, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are shaking things up again.
“Industry 4.0” uses technologies such as the internet of things to make manufacturing “smarter” – allowing companies to revolutionise the way they make and ship goods. “Manufacturing is becoming less about muscle and more about brains,” says Greg Kinsey, vice president of Hitachi Insight Group.
“It becomes less place-specific. You start to look at 3D printing. The shoe industry is contemplating: do we actually need to produce all these shoes in lots of variations in southeast Asia, ship them around the world, only to go to the shop and it doesn’t have your size? Why not produce them at the point of sale – put your foot in the scanner, measure the size and shape, swipe your credit card and pick your shoes up later that day?”
The digital transformation of manufacturing and supply chains means that data from factories is directly analysed using technologies such as machine learning and AI. The process can lead to drastic efficiency gains – up to 10pc, says Mr Kinsey. Companies can also see manufacturing lead times slashed in half.
“Consumers will see a wider variety of products, to the point of mass customisation, where you can design your own,” says Mr Kinsey. “Product will become linked to emerging demand, so we’ll never be in a position where things are just ‘out of stock’.”
The first stage, says Mr Kinsey, is to get rid of paper-based processes – something that many factories still rely on. Once digitised, the data can be crunched to ensure factories are operating efficiently. But the idea isn’t to get rid of people; it’s to augment what they do.
“When I graduated from university, I was heavily into industrial robots,” says Mr Kinsey. “Everyone said that robots were going to take our jobs. But the companies that invested heavily in robots – like German car makers – are now world leaders, employing many more people than they would otherwise have done.
“When we use AI tools to predict bad quality, or to optimise the settings for a production line, we can manage it with more confidence. We have had a lot of clients tell us that this technology helps them improve the way they work. This is should be the real driver of innovation.”
European companies are currently leading the charge in the digital transformation of industry, says Mr Kinsey. Many are also working closely with start-ups to enhance industrial processes.
“There’s a lot of interest in working with start-ups,” Mr Kinsey explains. “When you embark on innovation, you don’t always know what the solutions are.”
The resulting Industry 4.0 may change the way we all think about products, Mr Kinsey says – and the first signs are already here.
“In Europe, you have a lot of people thinking: ‘Do I need to own a car?’ That would have been unthinkable 20 or 30 years ago. Michelin already has aircraft tyres that are on a pay-per-use basis: people pay based on the number of times the jet takes off.
“You need to embrace this technology; if you don’t, because you fear that you might lose some jobs, you are going to lose all the jobs, as your company will no longer be competitive. In fact, digital technologies can improve the workplace and quality of work.”
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