The Maturity Roadmap in the AI Journey - Part 1

In the first of a three-part series, we take an overview of what smart, data-driven manufacturing can do for productivity and profitability.

Knowledge = power

Smart manufacturing—driven by data, machine connectivity, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning—is at the heart of the revolution in modern production environments. The rapid rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), as it’s also known, is easily as disruptive as the production-line model introduced over a century ago by Henry Ford. Implementing sensors on machines, and processing control system data enable the gathering of information and the ability to use knowledge gained from that digital information to make continuous improvements to your business’s productivity, safety, and profitability.

Gathering a baseline of data is the key step. This enables you to measure and analyze the things that affect performance at a granular level of detail; and to apply the insights from AI to make continuous improvements that will give you an advantage over your competition.

Smart manufacturing enables you, for instance, to:
- simplify, streamline, and future-proof the manufacturing model,
- accelerate decision-making,
- improve productivity, uptime and quality control,
- optimize planning, improve stock management, and reduce waste, overheads, and cost,
- implement predictive maintenance,
- improve safety and operational oversight,
- manage the increasing complexity of products, and
- scale business efficiently and effectively.

Building an operational performance knowledge base and creating real-time information also goes hand in hand with reaping the benefits of a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), which we’ll look at in the next installment.

Challenging times, smart solutions

In today’s challenging business climate, there are multiple factors driving the need for smart manufacturing. These include a global shortage in skilled labor (particularly in manufacturing), the impact of international competitive environments, the drive for high quality, low waste, and cost control. All these can be addressed via the application of intelligence to your production model. Whether it’s streamlining the output of existing products or enabling rapid development to adapt and scale into new markets, you need to be working smarter, not harder.

Although automation is well under way across several sectors, a lot of companies aren’t utilizing or even gathering data through technology that’s available at their fingertips to enable smart manufacturing.

As our head of sales and marketing, Rob Veal, explains, “A lot of machines produce data currently that is not even connected to anything outside of their own control systems. Therefore, that data is not collected and it's not available for analysis, for presentation, for correlation, or decision-making processes, let alone to build, importantly, a database of machine data that can then train models and inform the AI software when it’s deployed.”

Essentially, businesses that aren’t listening to their machines are working in the dark. They are often in reactive, rather than predictive, mode—always fighting fires—which leads to prolonged downtime, added costs, and reduced productivity.

Making data work for you

IIoT and AI platforms can digest a large amount of data from a wide array of sources and then make sense of it in ways that would be very difficult, if not impossible, for humans to do.

When you gather information from your manufacturing machinery, you can build an overall picture of performance. “By processing machine and sensor data, businesses can start making decisions about performance over time, and identifying areas for improvement,” explains Rob. “Ultimately the goal is to use AI to fine-tune your operation, to sharpen the axe. Finding another one or two percent of operational efficiency on a regular basis can be the change that makes you the market leader.”

Another example is quality control. In the past, sampling might have been low-level, and the pass/fail decision may have been somewhat subjective. AI now enables you to measure to a high level of detail and accuracy across an entire production seat, significantly improving accuracy and consistency, while reducing waste.

Making a start

As the proverb goes, “The best time to plant a tree is ten years ago. The next best time is today.” So if you’re new to smart manufacturing, the time to start is now. There couldn’t be a better time, because the technology exists to help you collect and use data profitably—and we are here to assist. 

Our knowledge comes from experience. “The reason we invested in this kind of technology in the first place was to improve our own performance in the real world,” explains Rob. “Having worked with industry specialists in each area of discipline, we realized we’d created a product. And because we know how manufacturing businesses are using intelligent production lines today, we can provide solutions that are real and valuable.”

Facteon have a lot of experience working with a range of customers, all at different stages of the AI maturity journey. We can advise you on the best options for connectivity, and what data is available from the production assets that you currently have. We will discuss the type of information you’d like, what insights you need, and how best to deliver the information to different people in your organisation, including how to integrate the data created into other business systems, such as ERP. As a start we could look at retrofitting devices, sensors, or vision equipment that can produce data to guide you.

Steady improvement

AI can bring about major change, which some businesses find challenging at first. You’ll want to know why changes are necessary, or whether they’ll affect your operation. Identifying and agreeing business goals and value early are important to overcome this.

Major (and ongoing) change requires trust, enterprise engagement, and teaming with partners like Facteon. Our aim is to work with you to agree clearly in advance where the value to you lies, and recognize that value as soon as possible, bearing in mind also that it’s a journey and we’re with you all the way.

“This does take some maturation of technology,” explains Rob. “But if we set up the right expectations at the start, there’s a fantastic opportunity to improve and retain your competitive edge. It’s a valuable investment over time.”

Is your business ready for smart automation? If you’re already automated, are you gathering data and putting it to use? At Facteon, smart manufacturing is our business. Wherever you’re at on the road to AI maturity, we will meet you there, and guide you forward.

Find out more

Speak with one of our consultants to find out how your business could benefit from smart manufacturing no matter where you’re at in your AI journey. Contact Facteon via our contact page.

Rob Veal

Rob Veal

ANZ Key Account Manager

As Facteon’s ANZ Key Accounts Manager, Rob utilises a customer relationship-driven approach to sales management and delivery to work consultatively with manufacturers to understand their pain points. With a depth of experience in IT sales management, Rob is passionate about providing New Zealand and Australian manufacturers with powerful Industrial IoT offerings that enhance their ability to compete globally.