IIoT World featured an interview with CM CEO Francisco Lobo on his perspectives on the role of AI in manufacturing and how IoT and MES are complementary in their contribution to the future of manufacturing. Following are highlights from the interview and additional discussion.

AI Taking Over? Not Really!

AI has always been a topic filled with concern and curiosity when it is discussed in manufacturing. Concern stems from the school of thought that AI, coupled with advanced robotics and automated machinery, will replace the human workforce, and curiosity stems from the ability of AI to make businesses, manufacturing, and the world more efficient and sustainable.

Manufacturing leaders, however, need to look at AI pragmatically, focusing on its potential in current operations instead of concern over an AI takeover. It’s best to determine where AI provides the largest return on investment. Francisco points out in the interview that AI is far from taking over manufacturing and has immense potential to help everyone from workers to supervisors of a manufacturing organization and from sales managers to the CEO.

The best way to view AI’s role in manufacturing would be to look at it as a tool to augment and help decision making at all organizational levels. In manufacturing, better decisions mean better efficiency, better analysis means higher quality and faster turnaround times, and all of this leads to better profitability.

Manufacturers need to use AI for current goals and for incremental improvements brought forward through platforms such as an MES. When implemented through a convergence of IoT and MES, AI has the power to deliver better results for manufacturers in the shortest time, not as a standalone technology but instead as a part of larger, more comprehensive technology system.

The Rise of Citizen Developers

No-code and low-code platforms become critical, with digitalization becoming the number one priority of businesses, including manufacturing, because there just isn’t enough coding talent to go around. These platforms allow citizen developers – people with process knowledge and working know-how of IT applications – to develop comprehensive solutions that improve processes and visibility.

The convergence of IT and OT is expedited with platforms that enable citizen developers to meet their digitalization goals faster without compromising the quality of IT applications being deployed within their operations.

Further, manufacturers benefit from IT solutions that allow customization by in-house teams for a better user experience. IT teams within an organization have a unique perspective on the operation and fully understand the user-friendly modifications that drive value from enhanced functionality, ensure faster adoption, and reduce resistance from users. 

MES is the Foundation to Build IoT and Leverage AI

It is also essential for manufacturers to grasp that when it comes to digitalization a modern and comprehensive MES reduces the need for multiple point-solutions that limit the benefits AI and other technologies can provide the value chain.

A modern MES data platform provides layers of depth and context to the data collected by IoT sensors which is then delivered to AI for analysis and trend prediction. The MES has more knowledge of the process and its controls and can offer more insights than IoT applications alone. When the MES platform leverages IoT data with plant and business data, AI can drive better decision making for better results.

MES-based insight has implications that spread wider than adhering to schedules and improving maintenance. With IoT data coupled with MES context, AI can predict the best outcomes for a given process and provide insight into both equipment health and operator performance. AI can help process owners make calls on machine replacements, training improvements, or re-engineering the process if that’s what is called for.

Manufacturers must remember that the MES is a foundational technology for digitalization and operations management. AI and IoT built on this foundation would serve an organization better than multiple point solutions that lack scalability and visibility.

So, don’t get swept up by fancy words and incomplete solutions. Use the MES to build IoT and leverage AI for both better decision-making and building predictive capabilities. Also, spend time to understand how each MES vendor has built their solution before making a choice. It is important that the solution goes beyond process coverage and is flexible enough to help deploy IoT and AI and scale-up as the core technologies improve.