Adopting Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing: Preparing the Future Workforce

Discussion of developments in artificial intelligence (AI) often focus on perceived negative impact and fears, including the potential for job losses. This is particularly true for the application of AI to the manufacturing sector. How can companies in the sector reap the full benefits of the AI revolution and ensure their stakeholders support them?

The early and most widely recognized applications of AI have come in the fields of technology, gaming and automobiles. But AI powered by machine learning is already bringing dramatic changes to manufacturing and will significantly redefine practices as it emerges further in the next few years.

Current applications include streamlined production models, productivity maximization and helping to address a labor shortage faced by many manufacturers. Production managers are using AI to reduce unplanned downtime through predictive models, real-time monitoring of machines and optimized schedules for predictive maintenance. Machines equipped with powerful cameras and sensors can use machine learning to detect product defects far more quickly and accurately than humans. And AI application to supply chain and systems operations offers opportunities for optimization on a wide, new scale.

In all these ways and more, manufacturing can progress in leaps and bounds using AI. But along with the benefits of adopting this technology, it is equally important to consider the human impact. Companies must be internally positioned to take advantage of new AI technologies by effectively communicating about their adoption and anticipated impacts.

But AI technologies have a trust problem. Concerns about jobs being eliminated are compounded by a lack of understanding of how AI can shift current work and open new opportunities for new and different positions. Forbes found trust to be the biggest hurdle in implementing AI, with easy explanation and full transparency often lacking.

A large part of the uncertainty around AI is the result of lack of knowledge and familiarity. Companies proactively address this by encouraging employees to interact with AI through chat bots, skills development trainings and more. While this level of investment is beyond what many stakeholders might imagine is necessary to reap the benefits of AI, the technology’s greatest benefits will be attained only when it is embraced and adopted at all levels. Developing human talent is crucial both to the effective implementation of AI technology, as well as generating positive support for the technology. By framing AI integration as a collaboration between humans and machines, companies can better position themselves to calm employees’ job loss concerns and encourage innovative use of AI.

Technology experts are confident that the full potential of AI is unlocked when powerful data analysis is used to support uniquely human efforts. Manufacturers that proactively communicate with their employees will have a competitive advantage over those who proceed with AI adoption without transparency or shared vision.

While there’s no doubt that the complexities and unknowns of AI technology present challenges to companies and raise concern among workers in the manufacturing sector, the risks of inaction are too great for companies. Fostering trust through communication is the best guarantee of smooth introduction and adoption of AI. This requires companies to have a well thought out communications strategy to address concerns, answer any questions and explain the benefits.