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AI Is Poised to Gain Traction with Manufacturers in 2023

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With markets and technology changing quickly for manufacturers, will artificial intelligence become part of the solution?

During the past two or three years, manufacturers have been scrambling to cope with labor shortages and disruptions in the supply chain. They are also facing uneven consumer demand and pressures to reduce waste. A series of concurrent factors have greatly limited the number of people on the factory floor, while job openings remain are at a record high. The solution may lie in technology rather than a larger workforce. Artificial intelligence may play a growing role in manufacturing during 2023.

Max Versace, CEO and co-founder of Neurala noted that the state of AI in manufacturing today has a remarkable resemblance to what we experienced in the evolution of the Internet from about 30 years ago when the World Wide Web was invented. “Artificial intelligence is not dissimilar to the Internet's first few steps,” said Versace. “Limitations and barriers to entry are still severely limiting AI’s usage in manufacturing. The main one is making AI accessible to a wide audience of non-experts.”

We caught up with Versace to get his views on the growth of new technology in manufacturing in the coming year.

Design News: You’ve said that we’re entering the era of WordPress for manufacturing AI. Explain what that means.

Max Versace: Today, software platforms are finally emerging that simplify a complex problem, providing integration hooks, hardware flexibility, ease of use, the ability to work with little data, and, crucially, a low-cost entry point to make this technology viable for manufacturers of all sizes. Simplifying the integration process and making use of the hardware already on the factory floor eliminates a major obstacle for manufacturers who want to incorporate AI into their manufacturing process rapidly and achieve a quick ROI. For AI-powered visual inspection, this means an affordable price per inspection point and the ability to achieve a 100% inspection rate.

DN: Will worker shortages continue to be a problem for manufacturers?

Max Versace: Throwing more workers at manufacturing to improve production is not a viable option. Manufacturers are looking at AI and automation to solve the issue. In the last two years, IIoT has become commonplace. With dozens of inexpensive sensors gathering data, as well as basic diagnostics from equipment, manufacturers are working to embed human-level AI that can extract actionable insights directly on the production floor, enabling systems to augment humans to tell good vs. bad production cycles based on machine data as it varies across runs.

Take the example of inspecting the quality of production. Statistics show that, globally, just this final task of visually checking the quality of a product will see a net decrease in the tens of thousands fewer human workers by 2030. How confident are we that millions of Americans are looking forward to performing these very repetitive tasks, especially when alternatives are available on the job market?

DN: We will continue to see an acceleration of AI adoption in manufacturing?

Max Versace: From predictive maintenance to product quality assurance to demand forecasting to inventory control – all while facing the challenge of workforce scarcity, with or without a pandemic. Automation is no longer a nice to have, but a necessity. Manufacturing companies have moved beyond early adopters to an early majority with a tremendous push to adopt AI to improve productivity and maintain product quality. According to BCG, the most important AI use cases in the manufacturing industry are:

  • Intelligent, self-optimizing machines that automate production processes
  • Forecasting efficiency losses for better planning
  • Detecting quality defects to facilitate predictive maintenance

DN: You’ve said that change will reach its peak when AI access becomes a low-or-no-code endeavor for manufacturers. Please explain.

Max Versace: Hiring AI talent is both difficult and expensive, often only possible at the largest manufacturing companies. For most manufacturers, it is the operators on the factory floor that understand where improvements need to be made.

Having AI products that can be rapidly prototyped to prove a use case, then easily implemented without extensive AI knowledge, allows for flexibility in the production process – so critical in today’s volatile economy. Putting easy-to-use AI in the hands of the right people means manufacturers can take steps toward being more prepared for the next economic upheaval, and re-emerge in the most challenging times.

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