How everyday products are made has always shaped not just what we consume, but how we work and live. The original Industrial Revolution led to mass urbanization, modern management theory and the default working week. More recently, lean manufacturing and continuous improvement evolved into agile software development and lean start-ups.
Manufacturing is now going through a fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) driven by digital technologies. The pandemic posed a triple threat to the industry, affecting demand, supply and workforce simultaneously. To adapt, manufacturers turbocharged digitization. They also need to build more agile production operations in order to respond to longer-term shifts in consumer demand, direct-to-consumer models and a trend towards mass customization.
Insight-driven manufacturing is a subset of Industry 4.0, focused on using automated insights from technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) to make better and more automated decisions.
Unlike other industries undergoing digital transformation, manufacturing uses large, expensive and potentially dangerous machines to make products. Those machines cannot be replaced but they can be digitized.
Manufacturers move through several levels of maturity when applying AI-driven insights: seeing, understanding, predicting, adopting and self-optimizing. First, they gain a new understanding of their operation, such as seeing the current health status of every machine. Manufacturers then start to use insights to predict what will happen in the future, take action based on those predictions and automate those actions.
Frito-Lay (a PepsiCo subsidiary) used machine insights to reduce unexpected breakdowns, interruptions, or incremental costs for replacement parts on the monitored assets. At Colgate-Palmolive, machine insights are combined with quality insights to predict which pet food formula will run best on a particular machine, a process which will influence product development. Essity, one of the world’s largest tissue makers, uses insights to enable more efficient processes in sourcing, production and logistics. Essity employs digital solutions across its operations, including self-regulating processes, smart sensors, data analyses, robotization and automation to achieve the lowest cost position combined with the best quality.
Insight-driven manufacturing affects the manufacturing workforce too, eliminating unnecessary tasks and freeing up factory floor staff for higher-value work. Essity has created a new role, digitization engineer, to make production process improvements with technology.
All of our futures will be changed by the Industrial Revolution of insight, and already that future looks bright.
This article was originally published in The Record.