Artificial intelligence
Illustrative image Image Credit: Creative Commons

Automation has long played a role in streamlining manufacturing processes to meet rising customer demands, and today’s generation of industrial robots are no different. Built with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, these machines are powering cognitive capabilities, from inspecting large quantities of items for flaws to running predictive maintenance on machinery or optimising supply chains.

Across the Middle East and Africa, 50 per cent of manufacturing and resources organisations are in their pilot stage to better understand AI. In particular, manufacturers rate the biggest benefits of AI as empowering employees to improve productivity and enable innovation, followed by enhancing operations through automation and prediction.But forward-thinking manufacturers can take AI one step further and use it to promote sustainability in manufacturing.

Pushing the envelope

Consumers today are increasingly interested in where their products come from, and more importantly, under what conditions they are produced. Consumers are also holding companies accountable for the environmental impact of their operations. Evidence shows that nearly three-quarters of all millennials globally would pay more for sustainable products and services.

Governments have also made efforts to work with manufacturers to provide more sustainable products for their markets. In Dubai, for example, Philips produced a one-watt LED light bulb for use in buildings across the city. Now, attention is turning to technology to reduce environmental footprints even further.

AI and going green

In recent research with Microsoft, PwC identified more than 150 AI applications for key challenges, including sustainable production and consumption. AI can help manufacturers go green and operate responsibly in several ways, including:

* Supply chain monitoring and transparency

AI can analyse data related to suppliers, including audits, performance, credit scoring, evaluations and more, which manufacturers can use to source ethical suppliers.

* Optimisation of industrial machinery

Through real-time data analysis, intelligent systems can measure energy and water use, and automatically adjust resource allocation to reduce excessive use or waste.

* Smart recycling systems and industrial waste management

Smart robots equipped with sensors and computer vision can automate rubbish sorting and disposal, making recycling more efficient and profitable.

* Digital twins for performance optimisation

Digital twins are digital replicas, or simulations, of real-world systems. By combining data with AI, machine learning and software analytics, digital twins update and change along with their physical counterparts, almost in real-time. Digital twins can be used to mirror complex pieces of machinery, predicting how they’ll respond to certain scenarios.

The potential is vast – now’s the time to get started Across the Middle East, the majority of manufacturers are still in the piloting phases of AI, testing out the tools as they develop the necessary infrastructure and skills needed to successfully integrate the technology. Tyre manufacturer Bridgestone is experimenting with AI to assist with processing sales orders and forecasting consumer demand.

More manufacturers are considering how AI can accelerate their sustainability efforts. Not only will it help them cut costs and meet evolving regulatory standards, but early-adopters are likely to win the trust and loyalty of consumers too.

- Naim Yazbeck is Regional Director, Enterprise and Partner Group (EPG), Microsoft UAE.