Automatic efficiency: How AI is redefining manufacturing
Thursday, October 26, 2017
Artificial intelligence has officially made the leap from science fiction plot device to cultural citizen, weaving into the fabric of daily life without much of a fanfare. In the private sector, its presence helps power internet searches and smart home devices, and is even starting to branch into vehicles.
Business, however, is where AI really shines. If the goal of every manufacturer is to produce as many units as possible in a given period of time without triggering safety or quality control issues, AI is emerging as the best case scenario in nearly every application.
Machinery is nothing new on the assembly line, nor is programming. So what makes AI such a groundbreaking technology? In a word, complexity is what drives its popularity and widespread adoption.
When business decisions are made, particularly during a time crunch, even the most seasoned workers bring bias on board. They could potentially change the outcome depending on how they feel about the issue, what they've experienced previously, and what they believe will happen.
While AI goes through similar gates of decision-making, it factors in analytics — not human recollection — to arrive at the best possible solution. Unlike straight if/then scenario programming, AI acts the way the human brain does, minus bias-inducing emotion: It factors in past performance, mathematically or logically extrapolates likely outcomes and acts.
Moments of hesitation don't seem long in the moment, but over the course of a day or week, they add unnecessary complication to your workflow speed. This is particularly true when the decisions are relatively low on the proverbial totem pole. These issues have a tendency to pile up and take worker attention away from the processes that could actually use it.
In tandem, not opposition
Some opponents of AI are quick to narrate a dystopian future where "the machines" have rendered humans virtually obsolete. In reality, AI will need to learn and course-correct throughout its functional lifetime; Engadget emphasizes that human oversight will always be a necessary part of any AI implementation.
The real future we're likely to see in manufacturing is one of humans and robots working side-by-side — the former dedicated to those decisions that even sophisticated programming can't untangle, the latter relegated to the "grunt work" that would otherwise slow down progress or contribute to workplace injuries and stress.
This pairing still provides for fulfilling careers on the "organic" side while using AI-driven technology to keep safe, sustainable efficiency at the top of the to-do list.
"One size fits all" is becoming something of a dirty phrase where the consumer market is concerned. Sales are seeing positive trends when more colors, more sizes and more overall options for products are offered — but how can a factory keep up with varying demand and still remain efficient?
Forbes notes that this particular issue is a simple one for a well-designed AI system, capable of examining product lifetime analytics and measuring them against recent sales to arrive at a smart, hierarchal solution for the manufacturing floor and warehouse.
Imagine selling more units simply because a computer was paying attention, or being able to expand your varietal catalog as wide as possible without stressing over space and functionality issues. With AI, it may be as simple as pressing a button in the near future.
As AI looks to conquer the next great hurdle — logistics and trucking — manufacturing eagerly awaits our theoretical robot overlords. After all, when it comes to efficiency, isn't progress is just another cog in the machine of commerce?
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