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Supply Chain News: Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing


Opportunities are Huge, New Report from MAPI Says, but Manufacturers Just Getting Started

Aug. 26, 2019
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Are there significant opportunities for manufacturers to leverage artificial intelligence?
That's almost an understatement, according to a new report from MAPI – The Manufacturing Alliance.

"For manufacturing enterprises, the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) will reshape the source of value creation, the formation of new business models, and the delivery of value-added services such as mass customization, predictive maintenance, and 'product servitization,'" the report says.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

Few organizations have introduced dedicated new job categories focused on AI. However, such jobs are emerging.

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But we are early in that journey, and many companies are just getting started. The report found that just 5% of MAPI member companies have mapped where AI opportunities exist and developed a clear strategy for sourcing the data that AI requires. And surprisingly, 56% of companies currently have no plans to do so.

The picture improves over the next five years, however, as 14% of respondents expect to have completed such mapping by then, while 63% expect to be in the process of doing so.

The report's key findings include the following:

AI Making Inroads in Manufacturing: AI is most commonly deployed in industrial robotics, machine vision, intelligent products, machine learning, and "collaborative robots" (cobots). Over the next five years, industry leaders expect significant growth in predictive systems and in their use of AI to manage intelligent supply chains. Manufacturers also expect significantly increased use of robotic process automation (RPA).

Significant Technical and Workforce Barriers Remain: At present, a lack of clarity about how to implement AI solutions, and a lack of interoperability between equipment are the most significant barriers to deployment. However, these are paired with significant workforce challenges, including a lack of employees with the necessary digital skills to implement AI or understanding of how to define the AI skills needed.

New Roles Emerging for Humans and Machines: AI will generate new roles where human capacity will reign supreme (e.g., creating and judging) and others where machines will outperform humans (e.g., iterating and predicting). Hybrid roles will arise where humans will enable machines (e.g., in training, explaining, and sustaining) and where AI will augment human capabilities (e.g., in amplifying, interacting, and embodying).

New-to-World AI Jobs on the Way: Few organizations have introduced dedicated new job categories focused on AI. However, such jobs are emerging. Fully 43% of manufacturers have added "data scientists/data quality analysts" to their workforces, and 35% more expect to do so within the next five years. A sizable proportion of manufacturers are also creating "machine learning engineers or specialists" (33% today, 70% within five years), "collaborative robotics specialists" (29%), and "data-quality analysts" and "AI solutions programmers/software designers" (26%).

Demand for Fusion Skills: This refers to the combination of human and machine talents within a business process to create superior outcomes to either working independently. Fusion skills will be needed in training, explaining, and sustaining activities (such as human judgment enabling improvement in the performance of machines); in expanding employees' capabilities (such as machine intelligence enabling humans to make decisions); and in tasks in which humans and machines will jointly excel together (such as iterative processes in which each learns from the other).

AI-Skilled Workforce in Short Supply: In terms of developing an AI-savvy workforce, a plurality of manufacturers believe the biggest barrier to acquiring AI-skilled workers arises from an insufficient number of graduates with the needed knowledge and skills graduating from educational programs. This is closely followed by difficulty in attracting skilled candidates due to reputational issues revolving around manufacturing, and by a perceived lack of mechanisms to retrain existing workers with the requisite AI skills.

Learning and Development Vital to Unlocking AI Potential: Manufacturers are pursuing several strategies to promote the development of AI-skilled workers. For example, a majority of companies expect to pursue a combination of both retraining and hiring employees with the needed AI/data science skills over the next five years. Others are building relationships with local academic institutions (including high schools, community colleges, and universities

At the same time, reflecting how early the application of AI is for many manufacturers, almost half are not yet supporting AI skills development for their workers.

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The report identifies a number of applications for use of AI in manufacturing, which include everything from product design to repair and maintenance to supply chain optimization.

It also includes the useful chart below, which offers six recommendations for business leaders to leverage AI's potential in manufacturing:



What is going to be the impact on jobs from all this AI? The report is generally bullish that AI will create lots of new jobs, but also notes that "Individual manufacturing workers and broad national manufacturing workforces alike will need to acquire entirely new skills if they are to add value in the coming AI-transformed manufacturing environment."

The full report is available here: The Manufacturing Evolution: How AI Will Transform Manufacturing & the Workforce of the Future

Any reaction to this MAPI report? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


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