Machine Learning Spurs New Era In The Manufacturing Sector

Machine learning in the manufacturing sector is making a big difference in the industry. Here's how machine learning is changing the manufacturing business.

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January 8, 2020
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The manufacturing industry has always been an epicenter for technological change. Many of the most influential technological developments have been spurred by the need to improve operational efficiency and the bottom line for manufacturing facilities around the world. One of the most important technological breakthroughs that manufacturers are embracing is machine learning.

A 2017 report by PWC showed that about 50% of manufacturing companies were using machine learning technology. That figure has risen sharply since that study was first published. The 2020 PWC report showed that 91% of manufacturing companies are investing in “digital factories.”

However, the proportion of companies that have become fully dependent on artificial intelligence is considerably lower. Only 6% of all manufacturing companies indicate that they are fully digitized.

While few companies have fully adopted machine learning, PWC research clearly shows that there is a growing trend towards machine learning in the global manufacturing sector. What factors are driving the trend? For example, smart manufacturing technology like Katana, which is used to improve and optimize business processes, planning and overall efficiency.

A growing number of manufacturers are leveraging machine learning technology

Although manufacturing companies of all sizes are investing in machine learning technology, the largest companies in the industry are using it the most. Siemens, GE, Microsoft and Intel are some of the firms that have made massive strides with investments in machine learning.

These companies have discovered that machine learning can be beneficial in a number of ways. These benefits include:

  • Reducing the cost of labor
  • Minimizing the number of defective products
  • Cutting downtime sharply
  • Speeding up the production process

TrendForce recently published a press release showing that the reliance on machine learning in the manufacturing sector will increase significantly within the next three to five years. That study predicted that the smart manufacturing sector will be worth $200 billion this year.

DeepSense.AI talked about a case study on machine learning in an automotive plant:

“An automotive plant implemented a predictive maintenance solution for a hydraulic press used in vehicle panel production. Detailed studies of the maintenance process showed that engineers were spending far too much time attending to breakdowns instead of allocating resources for planned maintenance. The new solution enabled them to predict equipment failure with an accuracy of 92%, plan maintenance more effectively and offer greater asset reliability and product quality. Overall equipment efficiency increased from 65% (the industry average) to 85%.”

Other case studies have highlighted similar findings and show machine learning is highly beneficial.

Some manufacturing companies are still reluctant to leverage machine learning

The benefits of machine learning in the manufacturing industry are unquestionable. Nevertheless, some companies have been reluctant to take the plunge.

These companies have raised a few reasons that they have not yet adapted digitalization. The biggest concern is that there is a large upfront investment. Smart factories are well worth the investment in the long term, but the initial infrastructure costs are not cheap. Manufacturing facilities may need between three and five years to break even after investing in machine learning technology.

Many companies recognize that it is worth the investment. However, they want to get the timing right. They expect that the ROI of machine learning will be higher in the near future. Efficiency should increase 12% by 2025. Some manufacturers will wait to adapt smart factories after the infrastructure costs decline and the efficiency rates are higher.

Manufacturing facilities in developed economies might be most likely to make the investment. Many of these facilities are struggling to stay competitive, as they have to compete with overseas manufacturers with higher operating costs. They can make up for these costs by using more tech-savvy professionals that can deliver higher production.

Machine learning is the future of the global manufacturing sector

The global manufacturing industry is constantly evolving. New technology is driving some of the biggest changes. Machine learning is creating a new era for manufacturers in every country. They will either need to make the investment or risk getting left behind. This could change the global dynamic and possibly create a new competitive advantage for manufacturers in developed economies. It will also help restore economic vitality to manufacturers that face the possibility of obsolescence, due to weaning production, declining profit margins and stricter regulatory demands.