It is more apparent than ever that the future of artificial intelligence (AI) is here today. And the manufacturing sector is no exception. In fact, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) observes that by “leveraging data and enabling greater efficiency, AI in manufacturing will improve communication, increase collaboration across disciplines, and stimulate innovation.” Moreover, the barriers to taking advantage of artificial intelligence are being lowered as pricing for AI-powered tools comes down and more applications feature embedded AI functionality.
AI is having perhaps the greatest impact on the manufacturing shop floor where smart machines and sensors provide a rich combination of real-time and historical data that can be analyzed. By using AI to provide new insights and enable informed decision-making, manufacturers are realizing opportunities to increase their productivity and operational efficiency while cutting costs.
Applying AI in Manufacturing
Let’s look at four areas in particular where manufacturers can realize gains by applying AI on the shop floor: production, quality, maintenance, and sustainability.
The combination of real-time production and process monitoring with AI helps manufacturers to improve planning, performance, and efficiency. Following are four common scenarios:
- Predict bottlenecks. Manufacturers can predict bottlenecks by using AI to analyze real-time production data. The resulting insights also enable manufacturers to allocate resources more efficiently in order to reduce bottleneck-related downtime and optimize their production lines.
- Improve machine yields and rates. AI can be programmed to calculate machine yield rates in real time, helping manufacturers find new ways to boost production. AI-driven analysis also helps identify underperforming machines and understand how to optimize their operation and improve equipment efficiency—increasing production and decreasing waste.
- Manage production timelines. Manufacturers gain greater shop floor visibility when AI is used to continuously analyze real-time monitoring data. The increased transparency, in turn, helps manufacturers to predict and manage their production timelines to ensure they meet customer delivery dates.
- Improve cost visibility and control. Together, real-time monitoring and AI provide order-level production insights that help manufacturers to lower their production and supply chain costs by more effectively allocating resources, managing labor, and optimizing operations.
Increasingly, AI is being used to identify and address issues on the shop floor before they impact product quality. Following are two common examples.
- Ensure real-time quality control. The advanced algorithms in automated, AI-powered visual inspection systems analyze product images or video streams in real time to detect defects or deviations from specifications. With this real-time quality control in place, manufacturers can more readily ensure that products meet specifications, as well as reduce defects and recalls.
- Optimize shop floor workflows. AI-driven solutions can continuously analyze real-time data to identify process inefficiencies and recommend strategies for optimizing production workflows to improve quality and boost manufacturing output while cutting costs.
The predictive maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) of machinery and production assets increasingly depend on AI systems, most notably to achieve two goals.
- Improve MRO planning. AI can analyze massive amounts of sensor data to identify patterns and predict when maintenance will be needed. So, manufacturers can proactively schedule MRO at times that minimally impact production in order to boost productivity.
- Increase equipment lifespan. AI-powered analysis of machine performance data also supports predictive MRO by improving the accuracy of mean time to repair (MTTR) and mean time before failure (MTBF) metrics. This helps prolong the useful life of equipment while keeping repair costs low.
Real-time monitoring and AI are crucial in promoting sustainability within the manufacturing sector. Here are two straightforward ways to get started.
- Focus on sustainability goals. Together, real-time monitoring and AI technologies enable manufacturers to more effectively pinpoint areas for resource conservation and waste reduction, so they can establish meaningful sustainability goals.
- Improve shop floor environmental compliance. Real-time monitoring of air quality, chemical emissions, and energy usage in real-time, along with AI-driven analysis of this data, is helping manufacturers to comply with regulations, and create safer, more sustainable workplaces
By using AI tools to analyze real-time data on the shop floor, manufacturers can gain new insights into strategies for strengthening innovation, lowering costs, increasing productivity, and improving collaboration in order to compete more effectively in today’s market.