There is no doubting the transformative effects of technological advancements on businesses. The main developments that affect manufacturing are the Internet of Things (IoT), which describes the way objects use the internet to communicate, and artificial intelligence (AI) programs, which compiles massive amounts of data for intelligent machine learning. Both these advancements have improved manufacturing systems and efficiencies and are well-received in the sector.
By the end of 2018, there will be more than 1.3mn robots on production lines globally. However, the rise of technologies is accompanied by concerns that robots will render manufacturing jobs redundant. I believe the contrary - the development and implementation of these technologies will open many doors for businesses, with human and robot collaboration being at the forefront.
As this trend is set to continue, it is worth looking at the ways that these technologies are fundamentally changing the manufacturing industry as we know it.
Manufacturers have always wanted to ensure every product is perfect, and this seemingly impossible task is now within reach. With the increased implementation of AI in the production line, it is now much easier for businesses to spot areas of improvement, whether it be in terms of efficiency, productivity or error rates.
Through IoT technology, machines can seamlessly talk to each other and react to any problems that arise. If a machine spots an issue, it can quickly alert other machines and employees – allowing the problem to be addressed in real-time. Additionally, machines can detect miniscule defects missed by the human eye. The enhancement in precision manufacturing by these smart technological systems lowers error rates and product failures, overall reducing huge costs historically faced by manufacturers.
A clear example of how the industry has been impacted by AI and IoT is its impact on predictive maintenance. The sector suffers from machine breakdown and malfunction: a recent study by The Wall Street Journal found that unplanned downtime due to breakdowns in equipment cost businesses in the US$50bn per year. Technology has the power to make these expensive interruptions a thing of the past.
AI provides a system that constantly learns and evaluates how a machine is running – analysing data and minor shifts in performance. The technology will be able to forecast when an issue may be occurring faster than any human. In doing so, AI technologies can flag any issue at an earlier stage, so businesses can foresee the problem before it worsens.
According to a McKinsey report, businesses who have already implemented predictive maintenance within their factories have seen downtime of machines reduced by 50 percent and maintenance costs reduced by between 10% and 40%. In the next few years, we will see the increase in use of predictive maintenance, with businesses reaping the rewards of lower maintenance costs and improved efficiencies.
Improved customer engagement
IoT and AI is fundamentally changing traditional customer engagement – a critical area for the industry. The improved service offering can help in negating angry or disappointed customers by creating clear communications in real time between manufacturing businesses and their customers. If updates need to be made remotely, then this can be done through IoT, and if a product is showing a potential defect, customers can be made aware much quicker.
The ability to provide data and an understanding of how a product is being used allows for remote support to be offered to customers. All this contributes to a more efficient and effective way of advising and supporting customers and provided an improved service.
The manufacturing sector will greatly benefit from the continuous adoption of advanced technologies. Many fear the implications of these developments on job opportunities but I firmly believe the industry has so much to gain from AI and IoT, and in fact, they will increase the number of manufacturing jobs available. Ultimately, it provides a win-win scenario, and I look forward to seeing what happens in 2019.