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Automation: Focus on skill empowerment to build smart manufacturing workforce

Automation: Focus on skill empowerment to build smart manufacturing workforce

25 Mar 2024

Automation to autonomy is the name of the game in the manufacturing industry. While automation remains important, there is a shift towards achieving manufacturing processes that are truly auto­nomous, says Marcelo Tarkieltaub, regional director of Southeast Asia at Rockwell Automation.

According to Rockwell’s latest State of Smart Manufacturing Report, 44% of Asia-Pacific (Apac) manufacturers plan to adopt smart manufacturing next year. Meanwhile, 88% of Apac manufacturers say they intend to grow or maintain their current level of employment, thanks to smart manufacturing technologies.

Some of the barriers to the adoption of smart manufacturing are employee resistance to technology, lack of skill sets to manage smart manufacturing implementation and lack of a clear definition of the value of smart manufacturing, according to Rockwell’s report.

To meet the demands of smart manufacturing, manufacturers should empower their employees with the necessary skills to adapt to evolving roles and collaborate effectively with artificial intelligence (AI) systems, says Tarkieltaub.

For instance, AI and augmented reality (AR) tools could be used to create virtual environments for experiential learning and knowledge sharing.

“The integration of AI plays a pivotal role in enhancing decision-making capabilities and driving cost-reduction. Although this transformation may not be immediate, cloud technology is emerging as a key enabler, providing a platform for agile and rapid implementation of autonomous solutions,” he says.

“The convergence of autonomy, AI and cloud technology marks a transformative phase in manufacturing, promising increased efficiency and responsiveness in the face of evolving industry demands.”

A couple of technologies are pivotal in the transition to smart manufacturing — cloud technology and generative AI. Cloud technology will facilitate the transition by providing a scalable and interconnected platform. Meanwhile, generative AI will play a significant role in shaping the future of the manufacturing process.

“For many industries, automation has been a game changer. The idea of removing human intervention as much as possible has resulted in faster production of everything and has reduced human errors in production,” Tarkieltaub points out.

Here’s where AI will lend a hand. “While automation has been pivotal in streamlining repetitive tasks, the focus is now expanding to imbue machines with decision-making capabilities, reducing the reliance on constant human oversight,” he says.

“AI is a key player in this evolution, as it empowers machines to analyse data, adapt to dynamic conditions and make informed decisions in real time.”

Rockwell has AI-driven systems capable of real-time parameter adjustments to enhance efficiency and product quality in the manufacturing process.

In collaboration with Microsoft, Rockwell has expanded its partnership to incorporate generative AI, which is Azure OpenAI Service, into industrial automation. Tarkieltaub explains the integration of generative AI will automate routine tasks, improve engineering efficiency, address labour shortages and accelerate time-to-market.

According to Rockwell’s report, 23% of operating budgets are spent on technology, although this varies across industries. This is as the Malaysian manufacturing sector is set to expand by 4.2% in 2024, according to the Fiscal Outlook and Federal Government Revenue Estimates report. The growth is driven by improved performances in both export- and domestic-oriented industries.

“No matter the investment level, budgets must be set with an eye firmly on the future. Manufacturers will need to invest in areas that help to address skills shortages, while increasing automation, machine learning and AI, in order to fully exploit the potential of technology and insights across the organisation,” he says.

This is why Tarkieltaub believes embracing smart manufacturing is not just a choice but a strategic imperative for manufacturers.

He recommends manufacturers start with a comprehensive assessment of current capabilities and set specific goals, build a cross-functional team that ensures collaboration across departments for a holistic approach, and invest in robust connectivity and integration which lays the foundation for seamless communication between devices and systems.

“The adoption of smart manufacturing varies across industries and may take several years as businesses navigate challenges such as technology integration, workforce upskilling and addressing cybersecurity concerns,” notes Tarkieltaub.

He reiterates that generative AI will accelerate the transformation of the manufacturing and industrial sectors. “With its ability to leverage vast amounts of data and predict outcomes, AI can significantly improve decision-making, optimise production lines, enhance product quality and reduce waste,” he says.

“As AI continues to evolve, new applications and capabilities will emerge, further shaping the landscape of smart manufacturing. Keeping abreast of the latest developments in AI is essential for industries looking to leverage these technologies for improved efficiency, innovation and competitiveness.”

Source: The Edge Malaysia