While imagining manufacturing shop floors, the only image that flashes across most minds is blue-collared workers finishing up every task manually, like portrayed in movies from the 80s. AI-based technologies have brought in a 360-degree change in the way we think about a shop floor today. It has shifted from a potential prospect for better functioning of the industry to a need of the hour. And COVID-19 has become just the needed catalyst for this testament. Today, right from being implemented in the parliament for streamlining operations to sports for predicting accurate match results to AI-utilised education and, needless to say, in industries to modernise businesses with an optimum workforce, the potential for AI-based technology is unmatched. For industries, AI can optimise supply chains, anticipate market changes (which can ultimately help optimise staffing), have inventory control and energy consumption. But given the current COVID times, the real question for the industry is — will AI replace manual controls on machines & operations? And how?
According to a McKinsey report, technology could automate 45% of the activities that people are paid to perform and that about 60% of all the occupations could see 30% more of their constituent’s activities get automated. Now, this doesn’t have to be confused with job loss or lack of employment. Most vouch that with the intervention of AI-based technologies, employees will shift to more crucial tasks within the organisation and hone their skills further simultaneously. AI can only take over tasks and not jobs, therefore, creating an environment of synchronous shop floor functioning between humans & technology. Now, how would AI enable all of this would be the real question.
AI hosts technologies, like Machine Learning (ML), deep learning and autonomous objects, that manage tasks on their own. Another McKinsey report on AI in production revealed that AI asset optimisers in heavy industries have delivered an 11.6% improvement versus the manual mode in eight months. It also brought in ease for operators as they could now easily shift to autonomous mode, leaving complex tasks and fine-tuning for machine intelligence.
For AI to be deployed successfully and to take over manual control, skill upgradation instead of skill replacement would be vital. Machines are only as good as the person programming & handling them. So, only employees with a solid knowledge of the industry can continue to design, build, connect, improve and maintain the AI. Considering the demand for people with high calibre to manage AI, the safest and the easiest route for industries would be to upskill and cross skill the existing work pool. Skilling the existing manpower across various domains, considering the current situation, can highly optimise shop floor management, too.
The self-learning nature of AI brings in a paradigm shift in the way of functioning. Companies that understood the potentials of AI early on, like Google & Amazon, have outperformed and have been able to adapt better to the changing market. For manufacturing, which has fickle margins and capital market pressure, the risk of not remodelling is high. Steady adoption and skill upgradation in tandem can be the only solution to meet both manufacturing and market demands.