How Does Artificial Intelligence Help Factory Automation?


Artificial intelligence started in the 1950s with people like Alan Turing who explored how machines could use available information to find solutions to problems, just as humans did. This led to his paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” which was an important first step in creating “smart” machines. But additional steps were needed to bring AI to where it is today.
While Turing had the basic idea, computers were limited at that point. To start with, computers were incredibly expensive, so very few companies had them. As computers became more accessible and government funding for research improved around the world, AI started to adapt.
In the 1990s, Dragon Systems created speech recognition software for Windows. IBM’s Deep Blue beat a chess champion at the game, showing that computers were incredibly capable of processing information and making smart choices. Years later Watson would beat two Jeopardy champions at the trivia game.
The world of AI continues to advance. There are driverless cars, machines run solely by computers, and even AI robots that provide companionship to people. AI has come a long way, and manufacturing and production factories are one area where AI is thriving.
What can AI do for factory automation? It helps in many ways, but here are the top reasons AI makes a big difference in production and manufacturing.

Less Power Consumption and Worksite Requirements

Automation doesn’t need a warm room to run, and it doesn’t need the lights on. You save money at night without having to crank up the heat and overhead lights. Employees have basic needs like access to food, water, and a comfortable work climate. Machines only need electricity, and you can account for random power outages by having an alternate energy source like solar or wind power. With the backup energy source, your plant can continually run.

Lower Accident Rates

When machines and AI are doing the bulk of the manufacturing or production work, the system is precise. Everything the machine does is perfectly timed and choreographed. That synchronicity goes flawlessly. This decreases accidents and damage to the building, the equipment, and to workers.

Decreased Maintenance Costs and Requirements

There are four types of maintenance: predictive, preventative, reliability-centered, and reactive. Plants that rely on AI have the benefit of predictive maintenance to ease frustration and save money. Start with preventative. If you own a home, you know that you have to do things like have your heating system cleaned each year to prevent it from breaking down. Regular oil changes and inspections of your car are also preventative maintenance, and it’s not what most factories do. Factory owners often rely on a reactive maintenance mindset. Don’t worry about it until it breaks. That’s reactive maintenance and it’s costly. It increases the need for emergency maintenance, which increases overtime pay and leads to substantial downtimes if parts are on backorder. There’s also predictive maintenance, which is a major benefit gained from factory automation. AI will alert when a part of a machine or system is starting to degrade and needs maintenance or repairs. It’s estimated that downtime is reduced by up to 45% with predictive maintenance. It reduces unexpected breakdowns by 75% and cuts maintenance costs by 30%. Reliability-centered maintenance saves more money than predictive maintenance and should be paired together. With reliability-centered maintenance, you’re putting priority on some pieces of equipment over others. You’re a cake mix manufacturer. Most of your cake mixes are made with granulated sugar, but you have about 10% that are made with a sugar substitute. That sugar substitute dispensing machine doesn’t get as much use as the other, so it is less likely to need maintenance as often. That’s where reliability-centered maintenance is helpful. Can you imagine having a plant where unexpected equipment failures are unlikely? It saves so much money and time, and that’s one of the biggest reasons to invest in smart machines and equipment.

Heightened Efficiency and Production Rates

AI can turn a plant into a fully automated factory that runs 24/7. You don’t have to provide holidays and weekends off when the machine uses AI. Automated machines don’t need a lunch or dinner break or vacation days. Because these machines run constantly, productivity improves. As productivity increases, you hit quotas regularly. Your production requirements stay on track. You no longer have late shipments or missed deadlines. You’re also running an efficient plant with little unexpected downtime. You might think this means that the need for employees comes to an end. That’s not the case. Employees are still needed, but they’re not going to be overworked. Many factories push workers into double shifts and overtime in order to keep up with orders. AI eliminates this demand, so your workers get to live their lives on the weekend and after their shifts. They’re not rushing around as much, so they will be happier and pay more attention to quality work. The other benefit is that for AI manufacturing to work well, a plant’s design has to make sense. You may have to move machines and departments around, but it ends up benefiting everyone. The flow of product or assembly will make sense and move fluidly from one department to the next.

Happier Customers

AI makes for happier customers because their orders are ready on time. They’re unlikely to want to leave you for the competition. Plus, the happier they are, the more word-of-mouth referrals spread, so it can quickly grow your business, which means more revenue.

Improved Supply and Demand Forecasting

Keeping up with supply and demand is often a guessing game. AI has the benefit of being able to quickly analyze information from around the world and use that to accurately predict supply and demand. The computer needs only seconds to forecast supply and demand, while it could take a person several days and still not come as close.

Precision Inventory Management

Tapping into the forecasting of supply and demand, that benefit plays a major part in keeping track of inventory. AI manages inventory with precision that humans don’t have. Every time products or supplies are taken out of storage for production or manufacturing, it’s automatically counted. AI won’t forget to record something and lead to shortages that stop production lines.

Quality Control

The final benefit of AI in factory lines is that quality control is optimized. As AI controls machines with precision, mistakes in measurements or alignment are unlikely to occur. If something does go wrong, the situation is corrected immediately. You’re not manufacturing hours of product before learning a measurement or weight is off and having to scrap all of the materials that were produced to that point. How can Mitsubishi Solutions help your plant use artificial intelligence to help streamline your factory? With our full range of smart machines, robotics, machine learning/analytics, and smart manufacturing options, we’ll help you achieve the productivity rates you desire without losing sight of quality and efficiency. Talk to our engineers and sales team to learn more about how AI can help your business thrive.

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