The Future of AI, 4IR, Change, and Women In Manufacturing [Part 2]


Welcome back to The Skillwork Forum! 

Today, we're going to break down the second part of a previous episode called What Is the Future of Manufacturing? In that podcast, we talked about a conference we just came back from called the Connected Manufacturing Forum, which prompted a conversation about the future of connected manufacturing. 

In this episode, we’re covering a lot of ground as we dive into several hot topics discussed at the Connected Manufacturing Forum:

  • AI in the manufacturing industry
  • Benefits of AI in manufacturing
  • Women in manufacturing
  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution
  • Change management in manufacturing

AI In the Manufacturing Industry

AI in the manufacturing industry is expected to be valued at $1.1 billion in 2020 to $16.7 billion by 2026—which is only three years away. It's important for executives to realize this tidal wave is coming whether we like it or not. And we can either get our board and paddle or get clobbered by the wave. 

Benefits of AI In Manufacturing

How is AI used in manufacturing, and what are the benefits of using it?

  1. Improved Operational Efficiency: In a connected factory environment, everything basically talks to each other and outputs a large amount of data. AI-powered systems can analyze this data and identify patterns to optimize production processes. 
  2. Data-Driven Decision Making: By analyzing vast amounts of data, AI can provide real-time insights that aid in decision-making. However, the manufacturing metrics that matter can get lost if you aren’t selective about what you’re measuring and why.
  3. Quality Control: AI can identify defects and anomalies in real-time during the production process. This leads to improved product quality and reduced waste by identifying defects early in the production cycle.
  4. Human-Robot Collaboration: Collaborative robots, or “cobots,” equipped with AI can work alongside human workers to perform tasks that are repetitive, dangerous, or physically demanding. This enhances worker safety and productivity.
  5. Risk Management: AI can help manufacturers identify potential risks before making a decision that could have negative consequences. This proactive approach to risk management helps manufacturers mitigate potential problems before they arise or escalate.
  6. Predictive Maintenance: The majority of facilities are still reactive—they fix things when they break. With AI, you can be predictive and fix things before they break, minimizing unplanned downtime and increasing equipment lifespan.

Even with these benefits of AI in manufacturing in mind, you still need tradesmen. Specifically, those that are capable of working with new innovations in manufacturing. While AI can predict when you need to fix something, it’s not going to fix it for you. 

Women In Manufacturing

In the past, manufacturing facilities really required a lot of brute force and physical labor. There was an advantage to guys in the workforce. But with the advent of technology, the younger generation of women – who are very capable and creative – have plenty of opportunities available to them in manufacturing today.

At the Connected Manufacturing Forum, there were several women in manufacturing on a panel talking about how to get more women into the industry and why it's a great place for them to be. The panel was headed up by Allison Grealis, the president of Women in Manufacturing and a future guest on our podcast. 

She was sharing how their organization is trying to reach young girls in middle school to give them an idea that this could be a future for them. Innovation in manufacturing is actually making it a more inclusive industry for women and creating more opportunities for them.

It’s very likely that in the future, manufacturing will be done remotely. There might be some need to come into the facility here and there to check on equipment, but many people's jobs in manufacturing could be done from home using this technology. Looking at how things are moving right now in manufacturing, it's cleaner, safer, and more technical. This creates not just opportunities for women on-site but even at home.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The keynote figure was John Dyke, CEO of CESMII, the Smart Manufacturing Institute. He touched on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR or Industry 4.0)– which we talk about a lot at Skillwork – but the previous 3rd industrial revolution, the advent of computer technology, remains where most US manufacturers operate today.  

The United States was at the forefront of that evolutionary change, taking advantage of computers and technology. However, John explained that it’s kind of a double-edged sword. In the Third Industrial Revolution, manufacturing facilities were buying and installing a lot of technology – computerize this, automate that, a sensor for this quality control over here – and “hodgepodging” it all together. 

Now, these manufacturing facilities have a bunch of “stove-piped” systems that individually operate very effectively, but they don't integrate very well with each other; they don't collaborate. You can't get collective or assimilated information from them. So, he says, “we’re basically putting lipstick on the Third Industrial Revolution pig and calling it 4IR”. 

The problem we need to fix is interoperability because we're not as connected as we think. As a matter of fact, the U.S. is 10 years behind our European counterparts in terms of interconnected manufacturing ecosystems. John and his team at CESMII are focusing on working across a variety of industries to educate and develop smart manufacturing solutions that will accelerate our 4IR journey here in the US. So, while our overseas competitors are starting to envision 5IR capabilities, we can’t even start thinking about that because we're not far enough along in our 4IR journey…but we are rapidly catching up. 

While there are many AI use cases in manufacturing, we have yet to see its full potential.

Change Management In Manufacturing

Leaders have to get a better understanding of what’s happening to help lead their facilities through it. There's a lot of psychology involved in getting people to adapt to change. It's a whole profession called change management.

At the Connected Manufacturing Forum, one gentleman from an agricultural manufacturing facility said they had a need for a lot of welders, but they just couldn’t find them. As a result, they brought in some robotic welding machines, but they didn’t want to get rid of their existing welders. Instead, they upskilled their existing welders, taught them how to program and run the new robotic welding machines, and assigned only the most technical and critical welds to them.  Meanwhile, they let the robots do the routine and less complicated work. It was a clear win-win for all.

He explained how they had to go through this tough change management process to get their welders to accept these robots that would help them do their jobs more efficiently. A couple of guys had been at that plant for 25 years, so getting them to buy in was really tough, but once they did, the adoption across the organization was seamless.

When you're the person who’s leading the change, it’s easy to get excited about it because it all makes sense to you. But you need to think about how to plan and execute a change management plan that enables buy-in for big changes like automation, robotics, and AI in the manufacturing industry to the welder, the industrial maintenance technician, or the person working on the line. 

With any revolution, there are always winners that lead or quickly adapt to change and losers that fail to recognize and get on board. Hopefully, this article helped continue to propel you towards the former!

Get the Skilled Workers You Need Today

At Skillwork, we’re focused on providing you with the skilled craftsmen and tradesmen you need to do all this work. As a skilled tradesmen travel staffing agency, we find those people, hire those people, and provide them to our clients all around the country to help their companies operate at their fullest potential.

With all the benefits of AI in manufacturing, you're still going to need highly skilled workers in your facility. These men and women are the ones you need to repair, install, program, and troubleshoot these technologies, and those people are becoming harder and harder to find.

Talk to a recruiter at Skillwork to find highly skilled tradesmen and women in manufacturing today.

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