Canadian Manufacturing

AI: Empowering the manufacturing workforce of the future

by Terence Moolman, Chief Strategy and People Officer at SYSPRO   

Sponsored by SYSPRO
Manufacturing Operations Research & Development Technology / IIoT Heavy Machinery advanced manufacturing In Focus Manufacturing Research Robotics Technology

For manufacturers, the introduction of AI will reshape the source of value creation, the formation of new business models and the delivery of value-added services such as mass customization and predictive maintenance.

AI: Empowering the manufacturing workforce of the future

Empowering employees is the key to attracting and retaining talent. No matter their age, people want to work somewhere they can learn something interesting, have advancement opportunities and be an active part of a community. Facilitating that environment is the most important manufacturing innovation needed for the future of the industry and its employees.

By harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI), manufacturers can eliminate repetitive tasks and inefficiencies, empowering workers to focus on higher-level work and giving them time to innovate and collaborate.

Ultimately, it’s all about improving the job quality of workers on the factory floor. AI augmentation helps them do the job better, provides them with better tools, gives them greater authority and increases the value-add of their jobs.

Unlocking AI potential with skills development
There are several strategies manufacturers can pursue to promote the development of AI-skilled workers. While expertise in areas such as programming, data analytics and machine learning are obvious choices, manufacturers also need to grow their cache of critical thinkers and problem solvers.

The first step is to invest in upskilling programs to smooth the AI integration process and develop existing talent. Job descriptions should be updated to reflect the skill sets that will be needed in the next five to seven years, and it’s a good idea to teach adaptive skills. These help people adapt easily to changing demands and environments, which will in turn enhance the flexibility of the workforce. Management upskilling is also critical to ensure that leaders are empowered to recruit, develop and manage different skillsets.

Building partnerships with local schools, technical colleges and universities will help to develop talent pipelines that meet the needs of a manufacturing operation which is geared to reap the benefits of AI. It’s worth considering developing internal training courses which are customized to meet specific requirements, or using massively open online courses (MOOCs) and other forms of online education.

With AI technologies, data is much more accessible, which speeds up learning and makes it easier to widen the talent pool and develop better advancement opportunities. Even better, the adoption of AI will probably lead to an increase in available jobs as more skilled workers will be needed to manage the new processes.

Putting AI empowerment into practice
AI delivers correlated, actionable insights into machines, processes and operations, empowering manufacturing workers to excel and advance their careers. Wider insights which can be shared on a single platform increase collaboration and eliminate the need for regimented, functional groups operating in siloed spaces. Those boundaries dissolve, resulting in cross-functional teams sharing expertise and experiences.

This combined knowledge typically leads to new ways of working and enables learnings to be applied across sites. The more insights workers can gain from their operations, the more empowered they become. When employees are faced with dynamic rather than repetitive work, innovation can start from the factory floor, opening up new opportunities and driving new employment interest.

In a cross-functional environment where everybody on the team is building something together, different perspectives emerge that create a richer source of new ideas and creativity. This evolution will occur in any facility that provides access to data, sparking new conversations and spotlighting each person’s individual expertise.

Having a clear view of the organization’s position on AI, the application thereof and how it will be governed are key ingredients in the enablement of AI integration.

AI, the workforce and ERP
Just as AI technology can learn from you and make your smartphone easier to use, it can also help with software systems like ERPs. Through interaction, AI improves the user experience which is a critical element in empowering the manufacturing workforce.

AI makes intelligent decisions based on human input, which in turn makes the application faster and more responsive to the individual user. For example, when searching through a data-rich system like an ERP, AI can tailor search results based on a user’s history, bringing up more relevant information and making the system faster and simpler to use.

Through its ability to handle both structured and unstructured data, AI provides manufacturers with business analytics tools that organize and present data in a clear, user-friendly way. It can also present the data in a way that is more relevant and easier to understand, boosting workers’ ability to make better decisions.

For manufacturers, the introduction of AI will reshape the source of value creation, the formation of new business models and the delivery of value-added services such as mass customization and predictive maintenance.

As AI becomes more prevalent in various aspects of business management and operations, investing in people will become even more important. Rather than displace people, AI and automation will combine their capabilities in new ways to create new forms of value and new opportunities. Manufacturers which identify how to empower their workforces through AI applications will create the greatest value going forward. If you would like to learn more about how manufacturers are using technologies like AI, you can watch this on-demand webinar.


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