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Blog: Manufacturing in 2024 Means Embracing AI

Blog: Manufacturing in 2024 Means Embracing AI

The ability of manufacturers to gather, understand, and implement change, remains key to profitability and growth moving into the new year. And AI is at the heart of it all.
Amid an incredibly challenging job market and supply chain issues that persist into 2024, manufacturers are searching for solutions. They are confronting an alarming slowdown in some key sectors despite a hot economy and this has caused the lowest level of optimism among manufacturers since Q2 2020

The one bright spot that continues to shine amid the often bleak manufacturing news is artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), in all its forms, including generative AI (GenAI).  Data, it seems, and manufacturers’ ability to gather, understand, and implement change, remains key to profitability and growth moving into the new year.  In fact, AI in all its forms will be the most important area of technology for manufacturers according to a new global survey, “The Impact of Technology in 2024 and Beyond.” 

The idea of data driving the strategy of manufacturers has been around for a long time. The potential for AI in manufacturing has long been touted as an eventual key to unlocking significant value in the form of efficiency and reduced operational costs. According to McKinsey, using AI/ML, manufacturers can reduce downtime by up to 50 percent and reduce the costs that come with quality-related issues by up to 20 percent.

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But despite what proponents such as the World Economic Forum predict about AI, the uptick in usage has continued to be slow as well as uneven. Yet, most manufacturers report that turning to AI/ML is inevitable. According to the “Manufacturing in 2030 Survey,” 84 percent of manufacturers report that they expect the pace of digital transformation to accelerate over the next decade. 

Most manufacturers understand AI/ML fueled by sensors are able to monitor everything from temperature to system flow. With an unprecedented amount of data (both internal and external sources) they have come to understand that data allows them to better understand processes and systems and make better decisions. 

Yet the technology exemplified by ChatGPT, may have more immediate results in 2024. In "The State of Manufacturing and Generative AI Adoption in Manufacturing Organizations," manufacturers report that they are turning to GenAI to improve production product development and design. One key obstacle to AI in general is the dependence on large, labeled datasets for training AI systems.

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Collating these datasets can be resource-intensive, especially because images of component defects, for example, can be difficult to obtain. GenAI addresses this shortcoming. By leveraging the technology, AI practitioners are able to create synthetic data to train AI, enabling it to detect defects through visual quality inspection (VQI) systems, including surface mount technology (SMT) and through-hole technology (THT) anomalies. 

Beyond production companies are looking to put GenAI to work with supply chain optimization, workforce augmentation and empowerment, and sales and customer service. But AI/ML remains a long-term strategy for most companies. Not a quick fix to get instant results or put a band-aid on broader challenges, but many are looking at the future of manufacturing see AI/LM at the heart of it. 

Cathy Cecere is membership content program manager.

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