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Most Manufacturers Want Smart Technologies — But Where to Start?

Last updated on April 19th, 2024 at 09:40 am

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Nearly every manufacturer, no matter their size, wants to invest in smart technologies in the coming year.

But what technology drives that investment? And, where does a manufacturer even begin to implement artificial intelligence?

These are just a few of the questions addressed at a recent event hosted by the Georgia Association of Manufacturers (GAM), which aimed to connect the state’s businesses with new technologies. Rebekah Murray, director of engagement and events for GAM, recommended employers first focus on “4-D” jobs—those that are dark, dirty, dangerous, or difficult — as they begin their AI journeys.

“The majority of manufacturers are trying to implement smart technologies into their process. But the challenges they face include a lack of experience and skill sets among their employees,” said Denise Hall as she welcomed attendees to the event at the Smart Factory Institute. “We are looking to close that labor gap or skills gap as we implement this technology.”

Representatives from Georgia AIM attended the event, which highlighted types of new technologies that could be implemented in manufacturing, along with a tour of the recently opened Partnerships in Industry and Education (PIE) Center and a panel session with manufacturers who have begun to implement AI in their manufacturing process.

Hall is president and owner of Peak Performance, Inc., which runs workforce trainings at the Smart Factory Institute. Hall also serves as a manufacturing consultant to the Tennessee Manufacturers Association. She and Lloyd Avram, president and CEO of GAM, guided attendees through a list of challenges now facing manufacturers as they embark on smart technology adoption. While the solutions vary depending on the situation, just understanding potential pitfalls and issues associated with new technologies could help manufacturers prepare.

These challenges included:

  • Collecting quality data
  • Integrating data from different sources
  • Scalability
  • Human-machine collaborations
  • Artificial intelligence and ethics, particularly as it relates to bias
  • The cost of the new technology compared with return on investment

As manufacturers begin to consider smart technologies, panelists and event hosts recommended a few steps toward success. First, identify your business goals and aim to align your new technology with those goals. “Aligning your smart technology with your business goals allows for the greatest ROI,” added Murray.

Manufacturers can also benefit from identifying “4-D” jobs that could be assisted with smart technologies. And it’s important to gauge the overall climate among employees —are people ready for change?

As new technology begins to gain ground in manufacturing, it’s important to remember that it’s not replacing employees. While AI and other tools can make jobs less tedious or dangerous, it’s still necessary to retain employees to oversee that technology. This is where upskilling and gaining buy-in is key.

“AI is a tool for us — but we as humans have judgment and perspective. And that’s an essential skill that AI can’t replace,” said Murray. “AI is a journey. Automation is a journey. You’re always going to have continuous learning.”