Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help firms in the manufacturing space find exactly what they need to keep operations moving

Posted on 15 Jan 2024 by The Manufacturer
Partner Content

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has dominated the news in recent times, from stories about great strides being made in the medical sphere in using it to accelerate diagnostics, through to less positive advancements in the use of AI to spread fake news or create sophisticated scams.

The evolution of AI is undoubtedly impacting the manufacturing sector, helping firms create efficiencies through optimised processes, derived from decisions informed by data analysis underpinned by it. While a relatively small percentage of manufacturing operators are in the predictive level of the maintenance maturity pyramid, it’s certainly where the industry should be heading and is the aspiration of many operators.

But another area where AI can assist those in the industrial manufacturing space, is in helping buyers and procurement teams source and buy the components they need to keep their operations moving and avoid downtime. While AI that helps buyers find exactly what they need quickly is prevalent in the consumer e-commerce arena, it has been slower to emerge in the business to business (B2B) space.

As an organisation that has put innovation at the forefront of its strategy over the last decade, RS worked with GroupBy, an e-commerce search and product discovery SaaS technology provider, to be one of the first in the industrial manufacturing arena to adopt technology to help make the lives of buyers easier when looking for products they need.

RS launched its new online search function in 2023 and, by transitioning legacy rule-based merchandising to revenue optimised online search, e-commerce product discovery has been revolutionised for customers. A quality search experience is key for buyers and vital to business success for distributors and vendors, particularly where digital channels are critical to business revenues. As well as holding the key benefit of providing an accurate search experience to customers, it also allows RS to free up team members whose job it may have been to assist these purchases, allowing them to focus on more data-driven, user experience optimising activities.

The GroupBy and Google Cloud partnership means RS can offer a Google-quality search experience that modern buyers today expect. Search relevancy is key and, in search use cases like dynamic pricing and unit conversion, across such a vast product offering – RS offers 750,000 products from more than 2,500 suppliers – a superior understanding of user intent and context is critical.

To be able to present relevant results, quickly, from both long tail and broad queries that could comprise niche industry terms and in different languages, as RS is a global business, is vital to success. RS transacts 64 per cent of its revenues through digital channels, with more than 70 per cent of customer enquiries for products and components coming through the on-site search capability.

Returns are an increasing issue and consideration for vendors across business to customer (B2C) and B2B worlds. Not only are these resource-heavy to process and disruptive for inventory and stock management, there is the impact on customer purchase confidence and customer retention to consider. Having an AI-powered search function to improve relevancy vastly reduces the instances of returns. For buyers, particularly those who need a specific product fast to address a maintenance issue on a production line, getting the right part first time is the difference between an efficient, planned maintenance task, and unwanted and costly downtime if the part isn’t right.

RS has found, since implementing this new online search function, the need for search rules, that had previously run into the thousands, has been negated. These search rules would have also had to have been manually curated by merchandising teams at a high resource investment. The productivity gains this has provided to the merchandising teams is significant and the relevancy of search for customers is enhanced with the self-learning capabilities of the AI-first platform.

The powerful AI is trained on extensive data and uses the insights from Google’s vast experience gained over many years of hyper-personalised searching. GroupBy uses this technology to benefit RS by dynamically managing search results based on factors like use relevance, to each different customer use case, which continually improves over time as it learns more about buyer intent and purchase patterns.

Once a catalogue business, RS has committed to stay ahead of the curve as the e-commerce world evolved. Now a product and specialised service solution provider, the implementation of this AI platform is enabling the organisation to combine cutting-edge technology with manual control to enhance the online search experience for buyers.

Those procuring products in the manufacturing space to help them keep the plant moving should consider how using firms that adopt such technology could enable them to create further efficiencies, in an increasingly competitive landscape.

RS’ products, services and solutions range can be found here.

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