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Pandemic pushes manufacturers to adopt AI technologies

15 June, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has spurred a significant rise in the use of AI (artificial intelligence) and other digital technologies among manufacturers around the world, according to a survey of more than 1,100 senior manufacturing executives in seven countries, conducted by Google Cloud. The study found that 76% of those quizzed have turned increasingly to technologies such as data analytics, the cloud, and artificial intelligence (AI) because of the pandemic.

Almost two-thirds of manufacturers (64%) are now relying on AI to help them in their day-to-day operations, with a quarter allocating half or more of their IT budgets to the technology, the survey found. And 66% of those who use AI in their day-to-day operations report that their reliance on the technology is increasing.

Globally, companies are now spending an average of 36% of the IT budgets on AI, with the UK being the front-runner on 40%, and Japan being the lowest spender on 33%.

Italy is the leading adopter of AI with 80% of its manufacturers using the technology, followed by Germany on 71%. Two thirds of UK manufacturers are now using AI, but only half of Japanese and Korean manufacturers have turned to AI.

Other findings in the survey include:
• Among manufacturers who use AI in their day-to-day operations, the top three reasons they give are: to improve business continuity (38%); to help employees to raise their efficiency (38%); and to help employees in other ways (34%).
• The top five areas where AI is currently being deployed include quality inspection (39%), supply chain management (36%), risk management (36%), product and/or production line quality checks (35%), and inventory management (34%).
• Two-thirds of manufacturers (66%) that are already using AI in their day-to-day operations report that their reliance on AI is increasing.
• Among manufacturers who are not currently using AI, about a third believe it would make their employees more efficient (37%) and could be helpful for employees in other ways (31%).
• Cloud adoption – which is essential for AI use – is fairly high among manufacturers. Most (83%) already have a cloud strategy, with the heavy machinery sector being the biggest adopter of cloud technology with 92% of manufacturers in the sector using the technology.

According to Google: “It’s clear that AI/ML technology can augment manufacturing employees’ efforts, whether by providing prescriptive analytics like real-time guidance and training, flagging safety hazards, or detecting potential defects on the assembly line.

The percentage of manufacturers in various countries who have adopted AI for day-to-day uses
Source: Google Cloud

The most common barrier to wider adoption of AI (cited by 25% of respondents) is a lack of talent to exploit it. A lack of suitable IT infrastructure is cited by 23%, while 25% say the technology is too expensive, and 19% regard it as being an unproven technology.

According to the survey, the two main areas where is being applied are quality control and supply chain optimisation. More than two thirds (39%) of manufacturers who are using AI are doing so for quality inspection, and 35% for product and/or production line quality checks. According to Google, “using AI vision, production line workers can spend less time on repetitive product inspections and can instead focus on more complex tasks, such as root cause analysis.

As AI becomes more widely use to solve real-world problems for manufacturers, Google expects adoption to progress from “pilot purgatory” to “the golden age of AI”. AI, it argues, promises to bring more innovation to manufacturing.

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