7 Benefits of AI in Manufacturing
As the world becomes increasingly automated, the IoT (Internet of Things) is already transforming our domestic and business lives. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the use of AI and robotics in the manufacturing industry, with all the benefits offered by Industry 4.0.
Automated systems governing smart manufacturing, and enabled by IoT devices, give us the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), which allows for the expansion and streamlining of all aspects of business. In addition, the deployment of AI and robots is particularly useful in industry as they increase product quality, production efficiency and overall speed.
The introduction of collaborative robots (or cobots) is becoming increasingly common, in industry as well as in laboratory work and commerce. Cobots can take instructions from humans in order to work more productively with them, including instructions that were not originally anticipated in the initial programming. Robots don't get bored, hungry or tired. The capabilities of Artificial Intelligence are far beyond human capacity when it comes to such things as miniaturisation and precision measurements, and they deliver vastly superior quality assurance.
So what are the benefits we can expect to see as industry moves forward into the 21st century world of cobots and AI?
1. Direct Automation
IIoT connects all IoT enabled devices to the factory floor, integrating manufacturing processes with big data and making them programmable via a logic controller. Increased use of precision sensory equipment means that information can be generated, recorded and analysed for all aspects of the production process, covering anything from temperature to item picking and packaging. Programmable logic controllers with AI capacity for deep learning can then respond automatically to the seamlessly generated information, and make alterations to the minutest function without recourse to human intervention. The big data analytics processed by AI can substantially improve performance across the entire production process, and can be operated remotely.
2. 24/7 Production
Human beings are biological organisms and need regular maintenance, e.g. food and sleep. For any production facility to continue working round the clock it is necessary to introduce shifts, using three human workers for every 24 hour period. Robots don't get tired or hungry, and are capable of working on the production line 24/7. This allows the expansion of production capabilities, which is increasingly necessary to meet the demands of worldwide customers. Furthermore, robots are more efficient in many areas such as the assembly line, and picking and packing departments. They can greatly reduce turn-round times in many areas of the business operation.
Human beings are fallible and prone to making mistakes, especially if they are tired or distracted. Errors and accidents do occur on the factory floor and in any construction or processing environment; a tendency which can be all but eradicated by AI and robotic assistance. Remote access control means a reduction in human resources, especially when the work is dangerous or requires superhuman effort. Even regular working environments will cut down on the incidence of industrial accidents and lead to an overall improvement in safety. In addition, more advanced sensory equipment integrated with IIoT devices make the installation of safety guards and barriers a simpler and more effective measure to protect human lives.
4. Lower Operational Costs
Many companies are viewing the introduction of AI into the manufacturing industry with trepidation, as it requires a huge capital investment. On the other hand, the ROI is significant and increases as time goes on. Once intelligent machines begin to take over the daily activities of a factory floor, businesses will benefit through considerably reduced operating costs, with predictive maintenance helping additionally to reduce machine downtime.
These days, consumers are increasing their demand for unique, personalised or customised products, while continuing to expect the best value. With such advances as 3D printing and IIoT connected devices, it is becoming simpler and cheaper to meet these needs, and using virtual or augmented reality design techniques means that the whole production process will be more cost-effective. Integrating machine learning and CAD means that systems can be designed and tested in a virtual model before they are put into production, thus reducing the cost of trial-and-error machine testing.
5. Greater Efficiency
IIoT enables the collection of vast amounts of data and advanced analytics which can be used to gain insights into consumer behaviour. Trends can be predicted, patterns recognised and market developments forecast across time, socioeconomic sectors and geographic markets, as well as taking into account political developments, macroeconomic cycles and even weather patterns. AI has the capacity with machine learning to anticipate information, to refine processes, and to track incongruities, all the way down the supply chain from source to finished product. This is particularly aided by such technologies as RFID tracking, which enable materials to be tracked without having to go through a physical process such as a bar code reader.
6. Quality Control
AI is also extremely useful for carrying out predictive maintenance on machinery and equipment. Using sensors to track performance and operating conditions, machines can learn to predict malfunctions and failures, and take action to remedy them before they occur. This can result in faster feedback, helping companies to eradicate unplanned downtimes.
Sensors can also detect the mot microscopic defects, scanning them at resolutions far beyond the capacity of human vision, thus improving productivity and increasing the percentage of items that will pass quality control. AI helps to speed up many routine processes and improves accuracy to an enormous extent. This obviates the requirement for quality control and in-process inspection by human beings, which is time-consuming and often fallible.
7. Quick Decision Making
When IIoT is coupled with cloud computing and virtual or augmented reality, companies can share simulations, confer on production activities and exchange critical or important information in real-time, irrespective of geographical location. The data gathered from sensors and beacons helps to determine consumer activity, allowing companies to anticipate future needs and make rapid decisions on production, as well as speeding up the exchange between manufacturers and suppliers.
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