As the post-COVID world revisits Industry 4.0 urgently, this opinion piece summarizes how factory transformation can help boost productivity.

Manufacturers have been using machines to improve processes since the First Industrial Revolution. But with the Fourth Industrial Revolution—it is machine learning that is transforming the workload.

Artificial intelligence technology can automate tasks, identify potential problems, and create faster processes. According to Deloitte Insights, smart factories equipped with the latest technology improve operations, output, and quality—all while reducing costs and waste.

And it is only going to get better. By 2027, advances in machine learning will enable AI systems to sense their environment, learn on their own, and make or recommend decisions, according to IDC.

Here are four advantages when AI is deployed correctly in manufacturing to transform your operation into the factory of the future.

  1. Predict maintenance needs
    Factories are used to scheduling routine preventative maintenance to keep machines and operations running. However, AI technology uses data collected by sensors to spot potential problems before they hurt production. Called “predictive maintenance,” this allows production managers to estimate when the equipment will need work to correct problems right away.

    For example, a sensor on a piece of equipment could detect an increase in the vibration of a specific part due to damage or defect. This can lead to having the part repaired or replaced. If the factory did not have this information, the part could eventually cause damage or even shut down the factory operations.

    Predictive maintenance saves manufacturers time and resources. An earlier report predicted that manufacturers that use predictive maintenance can reduce costs up to 50% by 2022.
  2. Boost productivity
    Employees in some industries worry that AI and robotic process automation could put their jobs at risk, but manufacturing team members have been working side by side with robots for years, and they know that the technology can make their jobs easier.

    Recent research for Epicor found that 34% agree that robots are more efficient than humans in the workplace. AI allows manufacturing companies to help their employees do a better job. For example, AI can provide an engineer with information on the type of material that should be used to create a better product. Manufacturers can use AI reports to better predict orders of its products, helping to eliminate wasted materials and time.

    Using machine learning, design, production, quality control, and supply chain departments can work together better, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. Also, manufacturers that use AI tools in their factories could increase productivity by at least 40% by 2023, according to some reports.
  3. Improve agility
    More companies are trying to improve how they adapt to meet the changing needs of their customers. AI can help factories easily implement schedule and product changes. Deloitte Insights predicts that advanced smart factories will eventually be able to change the equipment and material flow by themselves based on schedule or product changes. This can reduce the downtime that would normally occur during a change.

    Industry 4.0 also combines information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) to help companies with decision-making. For example, troubleshooting was previously done by managers on the factory floor with limited information. Using AI, however, lets decision making take place at the company headquarters—where people can review a broader amount of information and roll out company-wide solutions in order to avoid similar issues occurring at other locations.
  4. Promote safety and employee satisfaction

    Artificial Intelligence can also help to create safer working environments. Smart factories streamline and automate processes, reducing the risk of human error that could cause accidents and worker injury. And since AI often automates repetitive tasks, it can reduce worker fatigue that could cause injury over time.

    Research for Epicor found that 54% of industrial workers said robots automate the mundane tasks they once had to do. Taking away these tasks gives employees more time and control over the enjoyable parts of their job that often involve judgment and discretion. Deloitte Insights predicts that this will increase job satisfaction and reduce turnover.

AI holds the key to future growth and success in manufacturing. In a recent  Forbes Insights survey, 44% of respondents in automotive and manufacturing said AI was “highly important” to manufacturing in the next five years, while 49% said it was “absolutely critical to success.”

Investing in AI and smart factory tools does not just allow manufacturers to improve their processes and people. It also helps them stay up to date in a changing global marketplace, thus embracing Industry 4.0 and all it has to offer.