Karthik Sundaram, Program Manager-The Industrial Internet of Things, Frost & Sullivan – an excerpt from SPS IPC Drives 2018 presentation to be delivered 27th of November 2018, 16:00-16:30 CET, Room Kiew, NCC Ost, Ebene 2
Situated in a mountain village of Japan is FANUC’s widely reported lights out factory. This one of a kind, unmanned factory works autonomously 24/7 and is well known for robots that can assemble, test, and monitor themselves. A few decades ago, such a scenario would have existed only in the pages of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction. Today, the FANUC use case is a proof of the dawn of cognitive factories and how far artificial intelligence (AI) has been able to penetrate into the walls of these factories.
More than four decades ago, the programmable logic controller (PLC) automated many of the manual tasks in factories. The question is, can we automate further? Siemens’ vision of the Future of Automation recently showcased this precisely.
Defined as the science behind developing intelligent machines, AI is an advanced form of computer technology that empowers machines to perform tasks that are normally workable only by humans. Also known as cognitive intelligence, AI is the umbrella term used for several underlying technologies like machine learning, computer vision, speech recognition, robotics, natural language processing, deep learning, and so forth.
Cognitive intelligence is not just giving manufacturers the ability to gain answers to known questions; it is also empowering the industry to find new answers to emerging questions. Similar to how earlier revolutions in manufacturing have seen several benefits from lean manufacturing, automation and IT, AI looks very promising as the next lynchpin for Industry 4.0.
AI will become increasingly important over the next decade
As a result of the growing number of machines being connected to the internet, manufacturers are being hit with a huge tsunami of data. Several advancements in data processing and predictive analytics have helped utilize this data to generate insights for effective decision-making. The voluminous nature of manufacturing data further facilitates cognitive technologies to produce artificially intelligent systems that can correlate information, recognize patterns, and identify solutions or opportunities in manufacturing. Currently, most machines are embedded with low-level logical processors that demand a considerable amount of human intervention for making logical decisions. Cognitive manufacturing is the next evolutionary step, in which machines would autonomously begin to detect changes in the manufacturing process and would know how to respond real-time to the constantly changing manufacturing scenario with minimal human intervention.
Further, in addition to helping to automate tasks, AI will become a critical driver for improving current processes in manufacturing right from design and engineering to product development, sales, and after-sales. Mundane factory equipment will evolve into intelligent and thinking machines. As machines are able to think more, they will help us free our attention for other creative and thinking activities. Therefore, the next milestone for the manufacturing sector will be in identifying workable applications of AI in a smart manufacturing setting.
Potential applications of AI in manufacturing
Despite all the advancements, AI continues to be a controversial topic of discussion due to the social, ethical and philosophical strings attached. A conservative manufacturing mindset, security concerns, and lagging government initiatives will slow down cognitive growth in the short term, while classifying and grouping raw machine data will likely also remain challenging in the short term. Human resources will be needed for knowledge-based jobs, while low-skilled jobs will transferred to robots. Challenges aside, the rising benefits that businesses could tap from AI, will make this technology too hard to be ignored across all manufacturing verticals.
There appears to be no limit to what manufacturing can achieve with AI. This technology will be increasingly used for production, quality control, design time and material waste reduction, and predictive maintenance performance. Factories of the future will continue to learn, develop, and perform better. We have now arrived at such a point of time where it is not very difficult to envision factories as utopian hives of automation. As cognitive technologies mature and costs drop, manufacturers will start discovering new applications of AI that will help them make complex business decisions. Even though there will be some displacement of jobs at the bottom level of automation, businesses will begin to focus on re-training these workers to perform higher levels of design, programming, or maintenance tasks.
Undoubtedly, AI will emerge to be a technology that will be instrumental in steering the 4th industrial revolution by delivering better products through efficient processes. However, even AI cannot match the ingenious approach of human minds in making decisions that arise out of creative innovation. For manufacturers, being AI capable will just be the beginning; building on the expertise is what will drive the industry towards the well-intended goals of AI.
Join Mr Karthik Sundaram on the 27th of November 2018, 16:00-16:30 CET, at SPS IPC Drives 2018 in NCC Ost, Ebene 2, Room Kiew, where he will deliver an in-depth presentation on the subject of “The Dawn of Cognitive Factories: Artificial Intelligence in the Shop Floor”.