Does Industry 4.0 Need AI?  

Does Industry 4.0 Need AI?  

By Itai Mendelsohn, Bright Machines’ VP of Product


Spoiler: it does. Manufacturers can only realize the promise of Industry 4.0 with the adoption of AI, intelligent automation, and other modern technologies.  

BM profiles itaiIn a world that’s constantly evolving, it’s easy to understand why some manufacturers are holding on tightly to traditional processes that they know like the back of their hand. Change is and always will be hard. However, it’s time to loosen the grips on outdated approaches, as technology advancements aren’t just suggesting change within the industrial sector—they’re demanding it.  

The promise of Industry 4.0 within the manufacturing industry specifically – one that increases competitiveness and boosts profits and productivity with revolutionary technology – can only come to life when manufacturers embrace artificial intelligence (AI), machine vision, machine learning, cobots, cloud architecture, data, and more. These aren’t just nice-to-have perks; they’re must-have capabilities that are defining the future of the industry.   

That ‘future’ is based on software-defined manufacturing, which creates a foundation of both logic and intelligence in software rather than hardware to tackle persistent issues that have been looming over the industry for years. Those issues range from expensive, inflexible equipment that impacts the bottom line, economically and environmentally damaging operational processes, and manual and mundane assembly line tasks that deter fresh talent from pursuing the manufacturing industry. Nearly 58% of respondents in a report from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute said they felt manufacturing jobs have limited career prospects. 

Now, with software-defined manufacturing that leverages AI, adaptive robotics, and a cloud-based architecture, intelligent production can become the new reality. This means manufacturers can more easily configure, replicate, and scale automation throughout their factories to remove hurdles and embrace new opportunities. Plus, their technology naturally becomes even more intelligent and automated over time to create a resilient business that can navigate today’s and tomorrow’s complexity with ease. 

The benefits of software-defined manufacturing  

Technology has been rapidly advancing over the last couple decades, and the COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for manufacturers who haven’t been keeping up with it. Between being caught with inflexible operations that couldn’t pivot as demand spiked and dropped and overseas operations that were hit hard with closures and transportation delays, it’s never been more clear that digital factories, made possible with intelligent automation solutions, are the way forward. 

Here’s what life looks like for manufacturers who choose to invest in innovation and take steps to set up their businesses for both short- and long-term success: 

  1. Greater workforce opportunities: AI, robotics, and machine vision solutions on the factory floor are appealing to both new and existing talent. That’s because today’s workforce is genuinely interested in jobs that can turn into careers – that reduce or remove mundane assembly line tasks and replace them with cutting-edge solutions that can enhance their skill sets and advance their careers. To that, the report from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute found that 64% of consumers now view manufacturing as innovative, which is up from 39% five years ago. Progress is being made as new technology is adopted, but there’s still room for improvement. Those who choose to nearshore or reshore their factories also create new opportunities within local communities. People who may have had limited access to exciting jobs now have a chance to learn and grow alongside modern technology. Alongside today’s software that helps ease the adoption and adaption of a new, advanced reality, the manufacturers who offer upskilling and reskilling programs to make this possible will have a better success rate of retaining current employees and attracting new, strong talent. As nearly 45% of manufacturing executives had to turn down business opportunities due to a lack of workers, the business benefit of creating greater workforce opportunities is obvious. 
  1. Flexibility and profitability improvements: When manufacturers decide to switch from outdated, disparate systems that don’t provide real-time insights to an intelligent automation solution, they can produce more products at a lower cost and higher quality, uncover areas of operational optimization, and scale faster than ever. Traditional automation, which was designed for throughput and repeatability, has worked for so long because orders and requirements didn’t change as frequently. Now, demand ebbs and flows; customer expectations are always evolving, and no one can predict exactly how the market will respond to a new product. Flexible automation solutions offerquick and efficient deployment, easy diagnosis of issues, and line repurposing for product pivots so that manufacturers can adapt to the demands of today, grow the business, and create a more resilient operation. 
  1. Sustainable operations: The carbon footprint required to transport worldwide goods is massive, with international transport responsible for 33% of world trade-related emissions. With that, manufacturers are understandably feeling an increasing pressure to create more sustainable practices – to reduce waste, minimize footprints, and localize production when possible. A software-defined approach to manufacturing allows companies to achieve this tall order with less stress and guesswork. Digitizing local factories, for example, greatly shortens the supply chain, minimizes reliance on transportation, and reduces waste. Manufacturers can scale production up or down to meet local demand so that they’re not wasting time, materials, or energy producing materials or products that are of no use. 

Many manufacturers are already experiencing the improvements and benefits of embracing Industry 4.0 advancements. Their workforce is better supported, and their operations are more sustainable and resilient. Yes, change is hard—but change with the support of modern, intelligent technology is something to run toward, not away from.

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