Continuous innovation is the name of the game among industry players, and it certainly has been so throughout 2023.

Authors Lisa Hellqvist, Kris Odland, Radiana Pit

Photo: Freepik

Now, as we enter the year 2024, Artificial Intelligence (AI) emerges as the driving force that defined the year before and reshapes industry standards for the year ahead, according to research.

  • The global AI market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 36.8% by 2030.
  • In 2024, 8.4 billion AI-powered digital voice assistant units are expected to surpass the total global population.
  • 83% of organizations worldwide consider AI a top priority for their business processes.
  • By 2026, more than 80% of enterprises will have used “Generative AI APIs and models and/or deployed GenAI-enabled applications in production environments, compared to less than 5% in 2023.”

A lot of expert research conducted this year has shown an increasing trend in AI, specifically Generative AI, adoption to enhance employee productivity, reinvent work hours, improve the customer experience, and implement cost-effective business ops. And with the technology being top-of-mind for manufacturers in 2024 as well, what can we expect to accomplish with it in the new year?

Lisa Hellqvist, Managing Director, Copperberg

“As we step into 2024, Generative AI is reshaping manufacturing, revolutionizing processes, and elevating diagnostics and workforce management. Yet, amidst the ongoing discussions about AI, questions arise about its existence and potential shortcomings.

The fusion of Gen AI with AR and VR promises immersive experiences, supporting the hybrid, digital-first model. But what about potential risks? The synergy with cobots enhances productivity while ensuring a safer working environment, but are there unforeseen challenges?

Manufacturers must navigate this evolution, recognizing AI not just as a technological leap but a strategic imperative. In the coming year, leveraging Gen AI for its diverse applications, from predictive maintenance to workforce management, is crucial. However, careful integration is key, addressing concerns and ensuring seamless fit into existing workflows.

The ongoing discussion about AI prompts us to stay vigilant, acknowledging potential risks. Yet, the positive takeaway prevails — staying agile, open to collaboration, and proactive in upskilling the workforce will unlock the possibilities of AI for manufacturing in 2024 and beyond.”

Gen AI in 2023: A Paradigm Shift

Generative AI, as the name implies, is a subset of artificial intelligence that generates new content and solutions autonomously. Although still in its early stages of deployment, it has already changed the paradigm in the manufacturing sector this year by:

  • Bringing precision in manufacturing processes: From product design to quality control, manufacturers have harnessed the power of Gen AI to optimize workflows. Custom-trained AI models can also enable precise equipment and parts identification, which leads to reduced errors and overall enhanced operational accuracy.
  • Accelerating problem diagnosis and troubleshooting: Gen AI has proven instrumental in swift and precise diagnostics. Technicians equipped with AI-powered tools can identify problems faster, leading to reduced downtime and cost-effective solutions.
  • Optimizing inventory management: Traditional inventory management can lead to costly errors like overstocking or understocking. AI-driven solutions optimize inventory, ensuring that technicians have the right components at the right time, thus minimizing disruptions, and improving overall efficiency.
  • Streamlining reporting: AI can automate the report generation process to help organizations save time in the field, enhance documentation quality, secure governance control, and leverage reporting data to enrich the organizational database.
  • Enhancing reliability through predictive maintenance: AI’s main role in manufacturing for some years now has been in predictive maintenance. By leveraging historical data, sensor inputs, and real-time analytics, AI algorithms can predict equipment failures before they occur, reducing downtime, extending product lifecycle, and increasing overall reliability in manufacturing operations.
  • Elevating workforce management: Gen AI and visual assistance have become essential to workforce management tools, helping organizations optimize everything from knowledge capture and transfer to scheduling and guiding maintenance and repair visits.

Future Outlook for 2024: Gen AI’s Potential

As we look ahead to 2024, several trends and applications for Gen AI are expected to shape the future of manufacturing. According to predictions, there will be a broader adoption of the technology across various business roles and functions. The once-niche technology will become much more accessible to the workforce and reshape the workplace for a wide range of manufacturing professionals. 

The convergence of Gen AI with AR and VR, especially in field service, will create more immersive experiences and further support the hybrid, digital-first model that organizations pivoted towards at the beginning of the pandemic. The human-AI hybrid is thus expected to reach a point of synergy in 2024. Not only will this happen through human intelligence leveraging AI capabilities in the back office, but also with the help of collaborative robots, or cobots, reinventing production lines. Working alongside humans, cobots can augment their capabilities and take over repetitive tasks to boost production whilst eliminating potential risks to human health and creating a much safer working environment.

Kris Oldland, Editor in Chief, Field Service News by Copperberg

“In many ways, conceptually, what we are discussing when we explore the use of AI in field service delivery or even any part of that service chain is nothing new.

We’ve been talking about Darwinian or heuristic algorithms as part of dynamic scheduling for a long time already. We’ve had assisted support within the contact center for a long time as well.

What has changed, which happens with all technologies, is that ‘cost-to-access’ has come down while capabilities have increased. Perhaps what is important to factor in looking forward to 2024 is how these tools can sit alongside each other. Knowledge management systems that dovetail with remote service AR calls, for example, are powered by AI that can identify images and provide contextual guidance.

While these may not be common, they are certainly out there and in use amongst some of the more advanced service companies I’ve sat in with over the last few years.

However, for me, the value of AI we are going to see in the service operation is the removal of the mundane. There’s a phrase I’ve used quite liberally which I believe originated from the Four Seasons approach to digital transformation, which I think is perfect:

We need to digitalise the mundane so we can humanise the exceptional.

While we are on the production line, AI will also be used to help design personalized products at scale. From automotive to electronics, AI algorithms will analyze consumer preferences, enabling the production of customized products with minimal impact on production efficiency. This customer-centric approach extends to online sales as well, where AI will help design more personalized and immersive customer experiences.

AI still has a lot of untapped potential and its ability to continuously learn and adapt in real-time will prove essential in times to come. As we’ve learnt in recent years from the macro-environmental challenges impacting the world and thus the industry too, organizations need to foster more resilient, agile, and adaptable business practices and operations, and this is where AI can make a significant difference. 

The sustainability imperative is already looming large upon the sector, and AI can play a key role in green manufacturing. Algorithms can help organizations make decisions that optimize energy consumption, reduce waste, design smart manufacturing processes, plan more efficient routes, and so on. Also, as business models change and aftermarket services become a priority, AI will help manufacturers design products for service with qualities embedded within the product to accommodate service delivery and precision. 

For every imperative change awaiting manufacturers in 2024, AI can help them navigate the future more swiftly. As AI systems continuously evolve, learning from ongoing processes, manufacturers will be able to use it to adapt to changing conditions and improve decision-making processes.

Starting Small in 2024

Although Gen AI sounds nice and promises a wide range of benefits, deploying an all-encompassing AI model within organizational operations comes at quite a dramatic cost for most companies, making it rather challenging to deploy AI-powered solutions. The best most companies can do at this time and a more strategic way to embrace AI in 2024 is to integrate small, simple but highly specialized AI models tailored for specific applications. It is not only economical for the company but also cost-effective in the long run.

Particularly in predictive maintenance applications, gen AI will prevent costly disruptions to manufacturing operations by analyzing data to predict equipment failures before they occur. In inventory management, AI’s ability to optimize supply chain processes helps reduce holding costs and ensures that manufacturers have the right amount of inventory to meet demand. 

In process optimization, AI will ensure that resources, including raw materials and energy, are used as efficiently as possible to reduce waste and associated costs. Additionally, it can reduce errors in manufacturing processes through data analysis and precise recommendations to reduce the risk of defective products, improve quality control, and decrease costs associated with recalls and waste. And the list of different applications goes on.

Undoubtedly, investing in gen AI is a good call for the future, but it must be done in incremental steps based on the company’s objectives. As we step into 2024, the potential of this technology is expected to yield new solutions and applications for manufacturers, with AI-driven precision, predictive maintenance, collaborative robotics, and sustainable practices that will redefine industry standards. The symbiotic relationship between human intelligence and AI capabilities is expected to unlock unprecedented efficiencies, shaping a future where innovation and productivity go hand in hand.

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