AI to support automation, support labour shortage and drive upskilling as Industry 4.0 accelerates, study shows.
Manufacturers around the globe are planning to aggressively invest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, according to new findings from IFS.
The international research, which examined the perception and adoption of AI within the sector, revealed that some 91% are planning to invest in AI strategies. Industrial automation and inventory planning & logistics were cited as the key focus areas by 54% and 40% of respondents, as manufacturers seek to enhance productivity and boost efficiency.
IFS’s study polled 383 manufacturing decision makers working with technology including Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), and Field Service Management (FSM), and revealed manufacturers saw AI as a route to create rather than cull jobs. Some 51% of respondents stated they expect AI to increase headcount, while 22% believed it won’t impact workforce figures.
The findings come at a critical time for UK manufacturers, which in September recorded the sharpest drop in factory output for seven years. With the sector accounting for as much as 15% of UK GDP, the productivity gains associated with adopting and implementing the latest digital technologies can drive significant economic benefits.
Alongside investment in AI to support industrial automation and planning & logistics, scheduling was also viewed as an area of opportunity for investment, with 36% planning to use it to enhance production scheduling and 25% for service scheduling. Only six percent intended to invest in AI for customer relationship management, differing significantly from other sectors which see it as a major use case.
“AI is no longer an emerging technology. It is being implemented to support business automation in the here and now, as this study clearly proves,” IFS VP of AI and RPA, Bob De Caux, said. “We are seeing many real-world examples where technology is augmenting existing decision-making processes by providing users with more timely, accurate and pertinent information. In today’s disruptive economy, the convergence of technologies such as AI, RPA, and IoT is bolstering a new form of business automation that will provide companies that are brave enough with the tools and services they need to be more competitive and outflank larger competitors.”
An early adopter of industrial automation solutions that make use of robotics to transform its business strategy is leading North American packaging manufacturer Cheer Pack, who deployed a fleet of AI-powered autonomous vehicles to robotize material movements in its US factory and has already seen strong returns on the investment.
Cheer Pack Director of IT, Alex Ivkovic noted, “We expect the costs savings to be over 1.5 million US dollars per year. In addition, each and every employee will be re-tasked to a higher-skilled position, helping us with our labour shortage.”
At a time when UK manufacturers are facing the biggest worker shortage in 30 years, adopting a similar approach would be instrumental in tackling skills challenges, enhancing efficiencies, and boosting revenues.
De Caux concluded, “The findings of the study show that the time is right for manufacturers to reap both business and financial benefits from technology automation. Falling for the hype of AI is easy, but success requires disruption to existing business models. The technologies themselves are not a panacea, nor are they a universal solution to any problem. However, with the right data model and viable use cases, AI can support improved productivity and deliver significant benefits to both operations and the wider business. AI will be used by the vast majority of organisations in some form in the near future, extracting real value from intelligent processes, for the long-term.”