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How Smart Factories Are Changing Manufacturing

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Many manufacturers in the United States and around the world are beginning to introduce artificial intelligence (AI) into their factories. Noel Greis, a research professor of operations and supply chain management, said projections show that 50 percent of all manufacturing organizations will have some form of AI within their organizational walls by 2021.

The key to AI’s success is data, and today manufacturing shop floors are generating tons of it. “From 3D drawings, to products and their design, engineering, quality control data, and even machines themselves are generating tremendous amounts of data about their operations in real-time,” said Greis.

The data that manufacturers are collecting can be used and fed into AI algorithms that could lead to a competitive advantage in the future. Though implementing AI may seem like a stretch for some executives, Greis said that companies that have adopted machine learning and AI tools have seen operational gains in efficiency and revenue.

Greis said AI has been most important in predictive maintenance on the shop floor by using machine learning algorithms to analyze data to ensure machines are operating correctly and producing to form. Combining machine learning and computer vision will allow manufacturers to look at products coming off of the line and reject those that don’t meet standards in real-time.

The goal of these smart factories is to have machinery and equipment networked to communicate with other machinery, people, and even robots. 

“I think we are heading towards an ecosystem of digital factories in the future,” said Greis. “This is a big change from where we are today but it’s happening around the globe today and it will probably be here more quickly than everyone thinks.”

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