Siri on the iPhone, Cortana on Windows, Alexa, self-driving cars, and face recognition on Facebook photos, these are all examples of how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already having a profound impact on human lives. This trend is also impacting manufacturing, albeit on a smaller scale now, with robots being increasingly used to replace humans in factories across the globe, from the US, Europe, Japan, China and Taiwan. Foxconn has already replaced 60,000 humans with robots in its factories, after developing artificial intelligence solutions for its manufacturing processes. Such a strategy they insist shall help them offset increasing labour costs in labour-intensive countries such as China. Also, with AI technologies finding their way into manufacturing, leading economists from MIT are worried that technology is replacing jobs at a faster pace than creating new ones, which could lead to higher unemployment over a short-term period. Recently, Bill Gates has commented on robots paying taxes in case they are only intended to replace humans in jobs. Well, looks preposterous right now, but who knows! In the past, a Japanese company Deep Knowledge has even appointed a robot with deep AI skills as one of its directors as they feel it has the ability to predict market trends better than humans!
Robots replace humans in manufacturing
Foxconn is also working with Google to develop advanced artificial intelligence based robots to help itself transform into a high-margin capital intensive products based manufacturing company. Japan has always been a leader in robotics technology and is working aggressively towards developing atleast 30 million robots to create a workforce of robots and bring back manufacturing to its shores on more cost-effective terms in the longer run.
Artificial intelligence can help robots become more programmable and flexible so that they could be put to more uses than one. In the past, we’ve only seen robots that have been manufactured to do one type of job but all this is set to change with Google developing an operating system on the lines of Android that lets you interoperate a robotic platform across industries, thus reducing costs.
While large scale use of artificial intelligence and robotics in manufacturing is bound to cut jobs in the short term, the advancement in technology is bound to reduce costs, make the processes more efficient and accurate, thus benefiting society in more ways than one. With the use of smart and intelligent technologies such as IoT, artificial intelligence and big data, manufacturing plants can quickly exchange large sets of data and gain valuable insights from it. This improves collaboration amongst the workforce across the manufacturing chain at a faster pace and also helps in harnessing expertise to further improve upon processes.
Interconnected machine parts and IoT improve efficiency
Likewise, interconnected machine parts and machines that communicate with each other, through the use of IoT technologies, help identify problems faster and facilitate remedial measures thus limiting damage and reducing expenses. Such an approach also limits human intervention, prevents breakdown of machinery thus eliminating downtime in production.
From a consumer perspective, with production flaws being corrected at the manufacturing stage itself, there is little possibility of a defective product reaching leaving the shop floor and being delivered to a customer. A self-reporting machine could also foresee minor defects in otherwise larger products such as cars before they reach customers and avoid embarrassing and costly propositions such as recall of cars on a larger scale.
Impact of AI more profound on certain industry verticals
If we look at industry verticals such as mining and metallurgy, oil exploration, infrastructure and utilities, any business downtime there is extremely expensive and impacts the society at large. Therefore, the more such intelligent technologies are used and more the activities under these industries are monitored remotely, the more improved is the ability to diagnose and repair faults before the damage turns critical.
It also becomes easier to manage for operations teams when entire business data is integrated and analytics can be done in an automated fashion. Similarly, the research and development teams also find it easy to interact and exchange information with manufacturing facility and the quality control teams. While sensors and digital technologies have been extensively used in outdoor information gathering, the use of artificial intelligence techniques makes their analysis more meaningful.
The security of data exchange becomes paramount here and with the use of more and more cloud based platforms, it is increasingly in focus. Add IoT solutions to the mix and industrial automation is taken to the next level with supply chaing management systems and shop floor activities being linked to provide a more smart and optimised plant with better control over productivity and operational efficiency. All this together helps in adding more value to the products offered to the customers in the longer run. This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as possibility of using artificial intelligence in manufacturing is concerned. There interesting times ahead and let’s wait and see how much impact it shall have on our lives.