The Latest AI and Smart Automation Trends for Manufacturing

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Industry 4.0. The Factory of the Future. Smart Manufacturing. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). No matter which label you use for manufacturing’s digital revolution, there’s no stopping this freight train. It’s a movement powered by connectivity (wireless or otherwise), and fueled further by AI and smart automation. And while large manufacturers in a variety of industries have long been on board, continued evolution is bringing new and exciting opportunities—and lowering the barriers to entry. 

How AI Benefits Manufacturers

From labor shortages and surging demand to rising costs and data overload, there’s an AI-driven automation solution for nearly every pressing manufacturing issue. Most importantly, new solutions and savvy automation partners are helping democratize automation technology, so manufacturing companies of all sizes can take advantage. Robotics as a Service (RaaS), for example, can allow companies to implement AI and smart manufacturing without a large upfront investment and with minimal in-house expertise. 

Artificial intelligence applications for manufacturers

The possibilities for AI and smart automation in manufacturing are as varied as the goods created. Read on for recent case studies from Automate exhibitors and their customers. 

Leverage data to make automation smarter

Automate exhibitor and conference speaker JR Automation recently helped a customer navigate a digital integration between multiple, disparate robotic work cells—with the goal of leveraging data-driven insights to improve throughput and overall control. The JR Automation team leveraged SCADA and MES solutions to enable improved HMI/visualization, recipe management, KPI tracking and reporting, AGV management, alarm tracking, and key telemetry reporting. Catch JR Automation Vice President Mike Lashbrook speaking about the convergence of IT and OT technologies on the factory floor at the Automate Conference on Monday, May 22.

Achieve greater agility with AI

Automation has long benefited mass-production applications (e.g., robotic assembly lines in the automotive industry). But what about manufacturing tasks with high variances, small batch runs or frequently changing tasks? Siemens asserts that AI can help, making control logic more agile so manufacturers can be more flexible and precise. Steffen Klawitter, Digital Enterprise Lead Architect at Siemens Digital Industries, will speak at Automate about how manufacturers can use AI and vision technologies to help machines “learn” from their own experiences—so they’ll no longer require special programming to perform specific tasks. Catch Steffen’s session on Monday, May 22. Barbara Humpton, President & CEO of Siemens Corporation USA, will also deliver the keynote on Wednesday, May 24. She’ll cover how digitization has transformed manufacturing, and what the future holds. 

Use advanced vision systems to improve quality control

The next generation of vision systems leverages AI to read and recognize instead of just scanning barcodes. Zebra Technologies helped customer Bosch implement this type of system to further automate its mark-reading and verification process and enhance traceability. Thanks to AI, these systems can now better recognize and interpret more complex characters (with Optical Character Recognition or OCR), features and flaws in a way once only possible with human intervention. Hear James Witherspoon, Product Manager at Zebra Technologies, speak about this and other edge-based solutions at Automate on Tuesday, May 23.

The future of AI in manufacturing

The possibilities of AI already seem futuristic: Robots speaking to each other to work more efficiently together on the fly; AMRs buzzing around factory floors alongside human workers; and vision systems seeing and flagging a single irregular item among a huge batch of manufactured goods. At this point, it’s not hard to imagine what future iterations of AI-enabled automation could do; it’s more a question of how. Continued advances in deep learning, optical systems and motion control technologies will help enable more sophisticated iterations of the automation concepts already within reach.

Fortunately, automation suppliers and integrators are learning to be more flexible and modular in the creation and implementation of these systems. This way, manufacturers can more easily stay on the cutting edge without the need for a complete overhaul. 

Challenges of Implementing AI

To quote one of our recent whitepapers, AI isn’t a “black box you can drop in your factory and yield instant results.” Success not only requires buy-in from various levels within your organization, but also active cooperation and support from leadership and other team members. The good news is, if the commitment is there, the knowledge and infrastructure can be supplemented—with expert automation partners. You’ll find 600+ of these potential partners at Automate in Detroit, and get invaluable insights for your automation journey—no matter what stage you’re in. Register for free and join us May 22–25, 2023, in Detroit, Michigan.

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