Artificial Intelligence: Real Solutions for Manufacturing
Nancy Sarpolis - June 13, 2023
It’s hard to separate fact from fiction in the barrage of media stories about artificial intelligence (AI).
In its simplest form, AI combines computer science and robust datasets to enable problem-solving. In manufacturing, AI is playing a very real role in unlocking the agility, visibility and efficiency supply chains need in this post-pandemic era.
“AI is creating mass efficiencies in the production of goods and in the supply chain,” reports Columbia University. “With the power of interconnected devices and sensors, as well as machine learning algorithms, manufacturers are utilizing many machine data points to predict breakdowns, keep machines in top notch condition and (keep) the production floor running smoothly.”
The manufacturing sector is facing many challenges, including the need for sustainability, a skills shortage and geopolitical instability. Deploying the right intelligent manufacturing technologies such as AI can accelerate the responsible transformation of manufacturing industries by informing decision-making for value.
AI complements the planner’s expertise
In a world in which trillions of individual pieces of information are gathered each day, the sheer volume is too much data for a human to analyze—even within an organization’s own supply chain. The more constraints and complexities planners have to deal with, the harder it is to achieve the right answer, especially when the data exists in Excel spreadsheets or disconnected point systems. More and more companies are relying on advanced data analytics and AI-enabled software tools that assist human planners by giving them the tools they need to do their jobs more effectively.
Machine learning (ML) algorithms can find otherwise hidden connections amid lead time information, throughput data, and other production information, and can more accurately correlate the factors that result in particular outcomes on the factory floor. By training machine learning algorithms on Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)-gathered data about machine usage, for example, businesses can begin to discern patterns in unplanned maintenance downtime. If a company’s production planners know in advance that a machine is likely to break down in the near future based on IIoT sensor readings, they can strategically take the machine offline to perform maintenance rather than waiting for breakdowns to wreak havoc on the entire supply stream. Planners can pinpoint the ideal moment for scheduled maintenance to ensure that other supply chain workflows sustain little or no disruption.
By the same token, planners can improve forecasts in every area, from customer demand to shipping prices to traffic patterns with AI insights. These processes can also be used to gain a better understanding—and, indeed, to quantify— the uncertainty inherent in forecasted outcomes. This gives planners the power to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances and reduce risk across the board.
The power to transform
McKinsey estimates that AI in the supply chain will help businesses gain $1-2 trillion every year. More than that, AI makes up a critical component of Industry 4.0 and is poised to help with the digital transformation across the entire manufacturing sector, resulting in smarter, more connected production flows and, ultimately, the creation of the so-called “global factory.”
AI-based tools have the potential to transform supply chain management through data insights that can help planners reduce disruptions on the production line, decrease inventory needs, minimize late orders that require premium freight and use resources more efficiently. Integrating AI into the supply chain can also provide companies with enhanced safety, reduced operations costs, on-time deliveries, end-to-end visibility, and tools for intelligent decision-making. With these capabilities in their toolbox, any supply chain manager will be able to make accurate and efficient plans, resulting in increased success and productivity in their supply chain.
At the end of the day, the point of any and all AI is to assist human planners and give them the tools to do their jobs more effectively.
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AI applications for manufacturers
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