The Future of Manufacturing - The rise of AI and the transformative power of predictive tech

by Jason Bullard, on Jun 19, 2024 10:55:18 AM

The future of manufacturing - The rise of AI and the transformative power of predictive tech - Epicor


During times of rapid change, it isn’t always easy to recognize the contours of an evolving tech landscape. For manufacturing professionals, it can be challenging to cut through the chaos and figure out which emerging trends, tools, and technologies matter most.

The following series of blogs is designed to bring some much-needed clarity to that exercise. In these three pieces, we will take a comprehensive look at the future of manufacturing through the lens of game-changing technology and innovation—specifically, the evolving world of connected process control technologies. A better appreciation for what comes next is an essential prerequisite to making smart and strategic decisions about where and how to invest in the future.

Our journey begins with a topic that has been making headlines and driving conversations for the last few years: Artificial Intelligence (AI). If you’re a manufacturer who is well-positioned to take advantage of AI capabilities, you will not only operate your business more efficiently, you will be one step ahead of potential production issues while making the most of opportunities to scale and grow.

Predictive Power

The potential for AI advances to improve control systems, making them more robust and resilient, is quickly moving from “someday” to “right now.” AI-powered systems are already in use in manufacturing facilities around the world, and will continue to feature more prominently in production environments in the years ahead. AI can elevate connected process control technologies, moving beyond monitoring and real-time reporting to true predictive functionality. This functionality can be applied in myriad ways, from recommending machine maintenance before something fails to modulating the flow of production based on shifting variables. With AI, manufacturers can better predict everything from order volumes, maintenance and market pressures to production problems, supply chain bottlenecks, and even the ebb and flow of labor force availability.

Fueling the Engine

One piece of information that is often missing from conversations about AI is the critical importance of data gathering. Large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT that have gained popular attention lately work by pulling information from a vast array of online resources, becoming “smarter” over time based on user interactions and feedback. Manufacturing AI, however, relies heavily on in-house data—which makes the infrastructure required to gather, manage, and contextualize that data absolutely essential. Put simply, the stronger the data, the more effective the AI is going to be.

Even the most powerful AI tool is essentially useless without quality data, like a high-powered sports car without any fuel. This is where connected process control technology comes in, serving as a true source of data and connecting with enterprise solutions and administrative layers above the shop floor. The result is more than just real visibility into what is going on across the bottom layer—you’ll also get additional insights into trends and outside variables.

Inertia vs. Innovation

The successful adoption of AI depends on the willingness of manufacturing decision-makers to commit to making the change. As an industry, manufacturers’ openness to new tech can vary considerably—the pervasive old-school steel-and-steam culture and a fundamental skepticism of technology can slow needed progress. The perspective that, “The machines are running and producing product, so why upset the apple cart?” is one that skeptical leaders need to overcome, especially those manufacturers who are behind the technology curve in an increasingly competitive industry.

The irony is that, in some cases, the manufacturers who would benefit the most from a technology upgrade are the ones most hesitant to embrace it. Even some who have updated their front office multiple times in the last 10-20 years can be leery about making similarly substantive changes on the shop floor. Particularly for older companies, institutional inertia and the insular environment of the shop floor can impede essential growth.

Visibility and Vision

The good news is that this general wariness toward technology is decreasing as the industry evolves and begins to embrace a new mindset. Overseas companies may be somewhat ahead of the curve in this regard compared to their U.S. counterparts, but perspectives are broadening everywhere. For manufactures who are still apprehensive about exploring the latest tech solutions, the excitement around AI may help you see things in a new light.

To truly determine where your business needs to go to leverage the full potential of AI, having the objectivity and insight of a third-party perspective (ideally a trusted tech partner with demonstrated expertise in connected process control technology) can make a big difference. The right partner can offer an honest assessment of where your business currently stands along the tech continuum while helping provide thoughtful counsel based on your goals. This kind of objective insight is important—investing in AI-powered infrastructure now helps provide a strong ROI moving forward. Digital transformation and connected process control are the ideal building blocks on which to create this solid foundation.

The future, though exciting, may also bring new challenges as you navigate a space where software-based controls and human-tech synergies change the way we think about established ways of doing things. In the second installment of this series, we will review the power of this shift to software-based controls—and explore how trained professionals and automated elements can work seamlessly in concert to deliver extraordinary new benefits.

Learn how Epicor manufacturing solutions can help transform your business.

Topics:OpinionManufacturing CultureConnected Process Control

The Blog

Our team is a creative bunch that loves learning and pushing the limits to find the best solutions for today's lean manufacturers.  Internal discussions at the office might range from new features that manufacturing process control software should have to machine learning, blockchain technology, or what the future of AR on the plant floor looks like. Check out our blog for opinions, news and trends that we find interesting and think you might too!