Building manufacturing resilience through AI and ML

Posted on 15 Dec 2021 by Tom St John

Operational robustness and supply chain resilience are two of the biggest priorities for manufacturers at the moment. Paul Calver, Chairman of The Data Analysis Bureau (T-DAB) spoke of how the wonders of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can assist in this.

Watch the full interview here

Interview highlights

What role can artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) play in enhancing manufacturing resilience?

Firstly, I think that COVID has taught us the importance of gaining stronger resilience in the manufacturing sector. We’ve seen supply chain disruption, we’ve seen the impact on the workforce and we’ve seen all the problems associated with maintaining supplies.

I think that AI and ML are actually the low hanging fruit in the digital toolbox. All manufacturing organisations have data. A lot of questions I’ve had here (Digital Manufacturing Week) have been around date – ‘I’ve got all this data, what can I do with it?’

What AI and ML does is it allows you to tap into that data and increases resilience, visibility of your supply chain, knowledge of how to use your inventory and using predictive maintenance making machines more operationally efficient. It plays a key role in building up strength and resilience.

 What new priorities and challenges has this thrown up?

There’s some recent research that shows supply chain security is really important. We’ve seen this with the shipping problems and generally within the whole supply chain. AI and ML can look down that supply chain, it can optimise your inventory and it can work out automatically the changes in demand and supply. It can link your demand curve with your supply curve so that you can optimise your manufacturing process. Manufacturing relies on steady, or at least, well known demand in order to provide the products to market.

What opportunities does AI offer when it comes to digital transformation?

As I said, AI and ML is the low hanging fruit of the digital toolbox. Everybody has data in their factories, and they can use that data to gain insight and gain operational performance. It can also be used to support the workforce, it can be used for AI virtual assistants and for making sure that anomalies are detected in the process.

It can also predict the future and warn you of things that are going to happen so you can take corrective actions – it’s a very powerful tool. But I think there’s a lack of understanding about the art of the possible AI and ML, and we’re only just starting to realise how big an impact it can have on the UK economy and manufacturing,

How can new technology be scaled:

Inside the factory?

The first is predictive maintenance. In the UK, we lose over 180 billion pounds worth of productivity a year because of unscheduled maintenance actions on machines, in production lines and processes. AI and ML can immediately address that and can predict when that failure might happen and take action against it.

It can also assist with things like yield optimization and supply chain visibility as previously mentioned. More generally inside the factory, it can be used as a tool to assist in the insights and the understanding of what’s going on by automatically assess huge quantities of data and make sense out of it.

Outside the factory?

This is quite important as it’s also linked to sustainability. In the future, we’re going to have connected products – we’re going to sell products as a service. To do that, you’ve got to be able to translate the data that’s coming from those products into a level of availability and a level of support – AI and ML does that for you.

Then when it comes to customer churn – identifying and predicting when customers no longer want your services, we’ve done projects that actually predict when customers are going to leave. Intervention can then take place to talk to them and find out why they’re leaving. AI and ML is used a lot in an identifying customer behaviour.

You mentioned sustainability – how best can manufacturers approach this huge issue?

Sustainability is an interesting one. It’s important that manufacturers become sustainable and reduce waste, energy usage and water usage. I’m involved quite a lot in the sustainability discussion – data and information is key to that.

If you look at the stats, and this is from The Manufacturer and IBM survey, what’s really important to managers today is operational performance and supply chain robustness. Manufacturers need to get their operations going and they need to be done in a sustainable way – I think that sustainability is part of resilience.

We need to be better at doing things smarter – we need to optimise our material use. It’s not just about labour, it’s about material usage – it plays an important role. We’ve got to remember that the operational performance, resilience and supply chain security are the issues of today, alongside sustainability.

Read back over some of the highlights at day 2 of this year’s Smart Factory Expo