When Manufacturing Meets AI
There’s a nationwide push to get more products manufactured here at home, instead of relying on partners across the globe. Rising tensions in China have, for example, shifted the U.S. focus away from relying on Chinese manufacturing to meet our own economic needs. The supply-chain woes we’ve seen over the course of the pandemic also highlighted a need to ease our dependence on long supply chains outside the United States. And President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law not only provided funding to improve roads, bridges, internet access and the power grid, but it also strengthened a key element for manufacturing goods in America: the “Build America, Buy America” provisions within the law require that federally funded infrastructure projects use American-produced steel, iron, and construction materials to get the job done. This is great news for the manufacturing industry, but it also presents a challenge when you consider we’re in a manufacturing labor shortage. Companies have started to think outside the box in terms of ramping up staffing when the labor pool leaves much to be desired: Artificial Intelligence, or AI.
It’s predicted there will be a shortage of over 2 million American manufacturing jobs come 2030. More and more older generations are retiring from the industry, and younger folks aren’t interested in a career in manufacturing. There needs to be an alternative to human labor when human labor is scarce–that’s where AI comes in. To be sure, AI isn’t coming to take anyone’s job away. The purpose here is for AI to help business operations run more smoothly in the face of a labor shortage, and to revolutionize the way things are produced in the United States.
Automating with Robots
Robots in the manufacturing industry are nothing new. They’ve long been tapped for the more repetitive operations seen in automotive plants, like moving parts or spraying paint. But there has been movement in the artificial intelligence space that allows robots to conduct more intricate, human-like tasks. These bots work side-by-side with their human counterparts, performing jobs like assembly line tasks and transporting finished goods. Check out the great stuff coming out of Siemens– with “neural networking,” we’re able to take advantage of technology that allows robots to recognize complex patterns (such as holding different sized objects), no human being required. Aside from offering a supplement to a lack of human labor, AI-powered robots are also able to perform the more dangerous jobs in a manufacturing plant, work round-the-clock, and lift impossibly heavy items.
AI and 3D Printing
Advances in 3D printing have made it possible for machines to create efficient, cost-effective, and highly manufacturable designs–eliminating delays and mistakes that may occur at the hands of humans. According to Prescient Technologies, “in the 3D printing process, artificial intelligence helps maintain the material properties of complex alloys, such as titanium, carbon, and other metals. The resulting models can be used for predictive maintenance. Machine learning can even help manufacturers improve spare parts and predict when to replace them.” When we think about items such as prosthetics, 3D printing is truly where our future lies. AI allows us to analyze objects prior to beginning the 3D printing process, predict the quality of the end product, and reduce manufacturing waste. There are even methods we can use through AI to capture data about the printing process in order to enhance it or reduce future errors.
Autonomous Machine Vision
Autonomous Machine Vision, or AMV, is a technology created to supplement human interaction during the manufacturing QA process. These systems employ cameras and AI that are able to recognize the shape, size, and condition of products on an assembly line under an array of different lighting conditions. AMV then counts, tracks, sorts, and identifies defects on products making their way down the belt. It can also be used to pack products, put them on pallets, and load them appropriately to save time and money in the manufacturing process.
We’re continually making great strides in technology, and nowhere more exciting than in the manufacturing space. With continued research and development happening through AI, the industry stands a chance at keeping pace with a predicted decline in labor coupled with increased demand. We can’t wait to see what’s next in store.