AI Is Changing Manufacturing
Randy Wolken, President & CEO

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a major buzzword right now, but what does that mean for the manufacturing industry? AI-enhanced manufacturing is no longer just an idea – it has become a reality. The potential for each of MACNY’s members is enormous. Let me share several examples. (To read further about AI and how it will change manufacturing as we know it, click here.

The most dramatic change is the use of cobots (short for collaborative robots) that work with humans on the manufacturing floor. Cobots will use AI to learn new tasks and perform these new tasks that are routine and repetitive better than humans can do today. Heavy lifting is just one critical use of cobots that is needed. A cobot can lift a heavy part that a human can attach in final assembly. There are so many applications for smart robotic equipment within a factory setting.

Another fast-growing use of AI is for Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA software handles back-office tasks that are tedious and repetitive. RPA transfers data across systems, queries, calculates, and records routine maintenance. A related AI software use is digital twinning. A digital twin is a software replication of an actual physical machine counterpart. Using smart sensors, the digital twin can learn ways to improve operations and outcomes that can be adapted to the physical twin, making things like inspection, repair, and maintenance more effective. RPA can maximize physical equipment in most manufacturing facilities.

Machine learning AI algorithms and fully automated factories using AI are also on the horizon. Robots can operate 24/7 without traditional limitations such as illness or fatigue. Next-generation technology, using AI and robots, will forever change what a manufacturing floor looks like. Visual inspection tools are already used to detect real-time faults more accurately than the human eye. This speeds up outcomes and the development of new products.

One of the great uses for AI that is already widely adopted is enhanced inventory management. Managing inventory is difficult.  AI systems are excellent at keeping track of supplies and sending alerts when inventory needs to be ordered. This can help alleviate supply chain bottlenecks, which have only grown since COVID. Overall, AI makes supply chain management much easier. Manufacturers have countless orders, purchases, and materials. Manual processes are a huge drain of resources. AI offers real-time solutions for manufacturers today.

Manufacturing companies are beginning to rely on AI systems to help manage their inventory needs. AI systems are programmed to keep track of supplies and send alerts when they need to be replenished. Manufacturers can now program AI to assist in identifying industry supply chain bottlenecks so they can be resolved faster.

We are just beginning to see how AI will change the manufacturing operations of MACNY members. Today, you can see cobots and robots, autonomous vehicles, and AI-enhanced data collection being used by many manufacturers. This trend will only accelerate with additional investments in automation and AI. Such technologies and a tech-savvy workforce will help members compete with the world. It’s an exciting time to be a manufacturer!