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The rise of AI in the manufacturing industry

| Alistair Main | 25 July 2023

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) can’t have escaped your notice recently. News headlines are appearing on a daily basis speculating on the future of AI and its impact on areas as diverse as employment, university coursework, military drones, and music.

One industry that is already benefiting from AI though, is manufacturing.

Often at the forefront of innovation, manufacturers are optimising processes, streamlining quality control, and adopting predictive maintenance, all thanks to AI.

In what is a tricky landscape for the industry amid labour shortages and the rising cost of raw materials and energy, AI presents an opportunity to future-proof factories and secure financial growth.

Process optimisation

AI can be used to optimise manufacturing processes by analysing data to predict and prevent bottlenecks, making real-time adjustments, and streamlining decision-making.

Optimising processes on a production line offers a number of benefits. It helps to combat rising energy costs by getting it right the first time, every time.

While it does also replace the need for humans doing jobs that can be automated along a production line, many sectors, including manufacturing, face a shortage of workers so the fear of AI leading to mass job losses isn’t so much of an issue for now.

By taking employees away from simple tasks on a production line, it frees up their time to focus on higher-value activities which make use of their natural advantages over machines.

Quality control

Vision inspection systems have been widely adopted in the manufacturing industry already to perform simple pass/fail quality inspections, for example, if a product is clearly broken or damaged. Humans were traditionally still needed to perform more subjective quality control tasks - think the amount of toppings on a pizza or checking for small scratches on a phone screen.

However, increasingly manufacturers are using machine vision and deep learning to fully automate quality control processes.

These systems use cameras to check almost any aspect of products at high speed, feed this information back into the machines and automatically adjust the parameters to ensure accuracy and consistency.

This means that products can be produced without the variation that is inevitable whenever a human’s subjective judgement is relied upon and inspections can be carried out much faster and more reliably.

Predictive maintenance

Unexpected downtime in a factory can be catastrophic, not to mention expensive. It risks orders not being fulfilled and every minute that machinery is down is a waste of employee time.

To negate this risk, AI algorithms can be used to analyse machine performance and predict potential issues before they arise. This data can then be used to schedule maintenance and therefore minimise disruptions.

Improved employee safety

Another benefit of AI and automation in manufacturing that is perhaps not talked about as much is improved employee safety.

Manufacturers can use automated hazard recognition to eliminate issues before they arise, and, in settings where there is a serious fire risk such as EV production lines, automated thermal battery checks can be implemented.

Previously, a human would need to go into these, potentially hazardous, environments to perform manual checks. Now, humans can be kept out of harm’s way as thermal cameras are capable of doing the job with no risk to human life.

At Duncan & Toplis, we have worked with a wide range of manufacturing and engineering clients for many years and we’ve helped many businesses to optimise and enhance their operations with the aid of machinery and AI. Our specialist team has first-hand experience in the industry and understands the current issues faced by businesses within the manufacturing and engineering sector. Contact us to find out more.


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