2019: Manufacturing predictions
A new generation of point AI solutions will prove themselves in 2019. They’ll build new trust, urgency and understanding of what ‘AI’ actually is, and just how much it can deliver. Voice-driven solutions will lead the charge. And we’ll see pick-and-place robots in smart warehouses delivering a major competitive edge, as companies advance their use of Robotic Process Automation. Here are Bourne’s three key predictions for manufacturing for 2019—and beyond…
Prediction #1: 50% of all manufacturing companies will be using AI in some form by the end of 2021
Make no mistake, the implementation of AI solutions will change everything. And I mean everything. Every industry, business, process and company. But let’s not forget: For many businesses, targeted AI solutions are already here! They’re already delivering a competitive edge. 2019 will be all about that new AI realism spreading, with new targeted, project-based AI solutions hitting the ground running.
‘AI’: Small solutions win big
A big stumbling block for AI has always been the term ‘AI’ itself. It misleads many manufacturers, suggesting a large end-to-end system. In reality, ‘AI’ is a collection of targeted technologies, from natural language processing to vision identification to chatbots to analytics to automation—each with its own strengths and applications. What they all share is the intelligence factor: a high degree of accuracy and an incredibly fast, smart ability to learn from their mistakes.
I saw that accuracy myself recently with an IFS customer in Northern Europe. As a household brand, they used an AI demand planning solution to forecast projected consumption in their sector. The accuracy of their forecast before and after the AI solution was eye opening. The demand planning forecast produced by the AI solution proved far, far closer to real market results. And forecast demand planning proved an excellent choice of application. For this business, a concrete, achievable target meant concrete, measurable results.
AI solutions are precision tools, not blunt instruments
When thinking of AI, we need to remember that you can’t “implement AI” any more than you can “implement the internet”. Before you initiate any project, you must figure out your ‘why’. What exact business goal and target are you aiming at? What exactly do you want to improve and enhance? The more targeted your objectives, the more competitive and transformative your results.
Prediction #2: 25% of manufacturing planners will be talking to their systems by the end of 2020
AI solutions are smarter and more eloquent than most of us realise. A year ago, a major AI customer survey found that two thirds of people who said they had never used AI actually had, through chatbots. The quality was so high that the chatbots had been indistinguishable from human speech. The same survey found 84% of respondents were comfortable using voice-activated AI at home, in the form of Alexa, Siri or Home. And if simplicity, speed and accuracy are crucial consumer benefits, imagine what they could do on a manufacturing line.
- GE Additive partners with the University of Sydney to accelerate metal additive manufacturing
- Amazon places further responsibility on third-party sellers who violate safety standards
- Daimler launches two new bus models as part of its connected strategy
BMW’s smart integration of Alexa into its models in March 2018 was widely applauded. And rightly so. The integrated voice activation went way beyond skin deep, adding layers of service and performance capability to the whole driving experience. What’s less well-known is that voice-activated solutions are also already being used on the production side of the automotive sector.
In Japan, one of our customers, NEC, are already using voice-activated solutions in their order picking process, where line personnel simply give spoken instructions and their order is instantly created. Which moves us swiftly on to…
Prediction #3: Pick-and-place robots will put away 25% of manufactured goods by the end of 2020
Robots on the production line have been essential for decades. But what kind of savings and competitive edge will AI-enabled robots in the warehouse deliver? When Amazon made the headlines recently with their smart warehouses staffed with swift, inexhaustible robots, it became clear that robots raised the performance and savings bar hugely. With no eyes or flesh, robots do not need lighting or heating, so energy costs plummet. There are no time or weight limits on breaks, shifts or loads. And the flexibility, fluency, reach and economy of robot-driven picking and placing means no wasted time or effort—and far better utilisation of space. 24-hour, black-box warehouses will be able to store and do more, without having to get bigger.
And as it is with AI so it is with robots. It’s already happening—with small, targeted use cases that will keep growing bigger. An example: we are currently working with one of our customers in North America to extend their use of robotics from loading boxes to complete material handling. For our customer, it’s another small step on their longer journey to digital transformation.
So full lights-out warehouses may be some years away. But it has begun. At IFS we’re already seeing innovative partner companies beginning work with automated warehouses: Heavy parts that may once have required a team of workers can now be plucked off the shelf by one robot with no wasted effort, no wasted time and no additional costs.
2019 will see the technologies in all these predictions gaining traction in the world of business. They will become more targeted and more project-driven. More focused on achieving small, concrete improvements results that will lead on to big change.
For many companies, 2019 will be the year when they realise that actually, they don’t need to ‘climb an AI mountain’. They just have to keep taking the right, small steps. Do that, and they will still be able to reach new heights.
Fluent.ai x BSH: Voice Automating the Assembly Line
Fluent.ai has deployed its voice recognition solutions in one of BSH’s German factories. BSH leads the market in producing connected appliances—its brands include Bosch, Siemens, Gaggenau, NEFF, and Thermador, and with this new partnership, the company intends to cut transition time in its assembly lines.
According to BSH, voice automation will yield 75-100% efficiency gains—but it’s the collaboration between the two companies that stands out. ‘After considering 11 companies for this partnership, we chose Fluent.ai because of their key competitive differentiators’, explained Ion Hauer, Venture Partner at BSH Startup Kitchen.
What Sets Fluent.ai Apart?
After seven years of research, the company developed a wide range of artificial intelligence (AI) software products to help original equipment manufacturers (OEM) expand their services. Three key aspects stood out to BSH, which operates across the world and in unique factory environments.
- Robust noise controls. The system can operate even in loud conditions.
- Low latency. The AI understands commands quickly and accurately.
- Multilingual support. BSH can expand the automation to any of its 50+ country operations.
How Voice Automation Works
Instead of pressing buttons, BSH factory workers will now be able to speak into a headset fitted with Fluent.ai’s voice recognition technology. After uttering a WakeWord, workers can use a command to start assembly line movement. As the technology is hands-free, workers benefit from less physical strain, which will both reduce employee fatigue and boost line production.
‘Implementing Fluent’s technology has already improved efficiencies within our factory, with initial implementation of the solution cutting down the transition time from four seconds to one and a half”, said Markus Maier, Project Lead at the BSH factory. ‘In the long run, the production time savings will be invaluable’.
Future Global Adoption
In the coming years, BSH and Fluent.ai will continue to push for artificial intelligence on factory lines, pursuing efficiency, ergonomics, and a healthy work environment. ‘We started with Fluent.ai on one factory assembly line, moved to three, and [are now] considering rolling the technology out worldwide’, said Maier.
Said Probal Lala, Fluent.ai’s CEO: ‘We are thrilled to be working with BSH, a company at the forefront of innovation. Seeing your solution out in the real world is incredibly rewarding, and we look forward to continuing and growing our collaboration’.