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The Future Is Smart - Factories To Be Driven By Artificial Intelligence

A factory filled and ran by robots without a human in sight sounds like a scene straight out of a science fiction movie. But it might not be as far-fetched as many people believe it to be. There is still a lot of work to do before robot-run, or “smart,” factories become a reality, but there are many who are working toward this goal and hope to see it realized in the coming decades. Essentially a smart factory would rely entirely on artificial intelligence (AI) for the manufacturing of goods without needing human assistance. The temptation for this kind of robotics is obvious. AI would not require ongoing salaries, quickly making back the initial investment, and require no rest or breaks, making them cost effective when compared to their human counterparts.

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The Fourth Generation

These “cyber-physical systems” have been called the fourth generation of the industrial revolution, with the first being the emergence of the steam engine, the second was the invention of the conveyor belt, and the third being the use of electronics and automation. Each step has lead to an burst of new technologies and increase in the economy. They have continued to benefit the states and institutions that pursue the technologies. The fourth generation of AI has already increased productivity in the factories that they've been implemented in, as well as with collaborative robots being utilized in smaller manufacturing operations.

How They Will Work

The new AI in these manufacturing operations would have their controls available online and will be accessible on smartphones, tablets and similar devices. Not only does this make their operations easy to monitor, but also to alter programs between jobs without having to be present right next to the machinery. A feature that is in development for these machines is Deep Learning Technology, making them even more efficient. This feature means that they can be customized not only for particular jobs but also for individual buyers.

One of the main obstacles to overcome in order to reach the point that AI could take on this role is simply their PLC programming. Currently robots have Ladder Logic Programs which follow simple problem-action-outcome systems. There is not room for complex problem solving. They complete the simple and repetitive tasks that they are programmed for, without variation. The robots tend require a supervisor to keep an eye on the work that they are doing in order to ensure that everything is going according to the plan. The hope for developers is that as newer models are built and new softwares created, PLC programmers will be able to utilize the new developments that allow these machines to be reliable and effective enough to work is smart factories with minimal human interference.

AI, Jobs, and You

The drastic changes faced on the job landscape are both inevitable and intimidating to many people. Job loss and unemployment rates are understandably a concern with the emergence of smart factories and will no doubt continue to be an ongoing conversation for many years to come. It manifests in anxiety about robots replacing humans and having to compete with them for a position. These fears are amplified by reports like Apple’s iPhone supplier, Foxconn, having gone automatic replacing 60 000 workers with robots in its Kunshan factory, or that over 50% of the jobs in South Korea could eventually be completed by robots.

Closer to home it has even been reported that the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics predicts the AI revolution will eliminate millions of simple jobs, but it is important not to take these numbers as the end of the story. The USA, along with many other countries around the world, are now facing a declining birth rate and about 3 million labourers nearing retirement. The USA will be in need of 3.5 million new workers leading up to 2025, and are estimating that a third of those openings will be unfilled due to lack of skilled workers. These facts change the story of the positions the robots eliminated. They are instead filling in for where there is going to be a lack of necessary workers, enabling humans to move into other positions and preparing for the future.

AI’s presence alone also creates a need for skilled professionals. As the numbers of robots rise, so does the need for Electromechanical Technicians, Robotics Technicians, and Automation Technicians. It doesn’t matter how advanced their technology is or how their problems are diagnosed, AI like all machines will require maintenance and repairs. There is a lot of opportunity within this growing field and the need technicians will continue to grow. The key to embracing the future of AI is adaptability and education.

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