Cosmos Briefing: Intelligent Manufacturing

Over the next decade, the Australian manufacturing industry will need to change its practices to continue making things for the rest of the world. Dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution, AI and smart technologies have the potential to make the sector more productive and less wasteful, but the implementation needs to be done right.

In our recent Cosmos Briefing, experts in the use of AI for industrial purposes discussed how AI is going to change the face of manufacturing and what skills we will need to stay competitive.

The session, hosted by Dr Deborah Devis of the Royal Institution of Australia, featured Giselle Rampersad of Flinders University and Martin Guenzl, senior executive of Boral.

“When we look at the term industry 4.0, I guess we have to think about what each of the different industrial revolutions means,” says Rampersad. “ So we had the first one with a steam engine or mechanical production, then we had the assembly line, or mass production, where it was it was run by electrical power, then there was the computing revolution.

“And the fourth industrial revolution is about cyber-physical systems, or merging of a range of technologies, from advanced robotics, to Internet of Things, to AI to lead to digital transformation in businesses.”

Some of the examples involve artificial intelligence and machine learning, and range from simple to complex.

Guenzl explains “that could be simple sensors that just record or measure something”, but could also mean high-end processing like “cloud computing, as well as now introducing blockchain and distributed ledger.

“It’s not so much that it’s the individual elements – it’s the combination of them all together that actually can help solve many boring problems, probably some that we never thought we could.”

One of the impacts AI could have beyond simplifying and speeding up manufacturing is the ability to be environmentally friendly.

“One of the areas…of focus is around energy efficiency,” remarks Guenzl. “This is not necessarily as exciting as the latest tech with bells and whistles and so on. But it…can have quite a profound impact, I think, on efficiency [and] waste, obviously.”

Rampersand agrees: “Another one in terms of using industry 4.0 to simulate product designs [and] different options. So, rather than making a lot of models physically, being able to use those sort of simulation tools, digital twins, and so on, as part of industry to reduce waste.”

This means the skills needed to maintain and use these AI helpers could change.

“The most immediate one, and then the most obvious one, is data scientists for AI,” says Guenzl. “There’s actually quite a big shortage at the moment.”

He says the human element hasn’t necessarily been removed – humans have “been doing a lot of the decision making and the judgments and so on. I think the AI takes it to the next level, which is some of that judgment and decision making.”

This also extends to protecting our data, says Rampersand.

“We spend more time online, we work more online, we study, we communicate – we are online currently,” she says.  “So we need to protect our data, our personnel, data banking, health records.”

“Cybersecurity experts will be really important across a range of industries, from manufacturing, to defense, to the components within the products we make, to banking, to health – that will be a key skill in demand globally.”

Both experts agree that this will not just be seen in our current workforce, but also in our schools and education.

“I think in the short term, it’s going to take things outside the school and education system – coding camps, or parents encouraging them to run an online course, or gamifying learning perhaps,” suggests Guenzl.  

“But it’s going to be up to parents – it’s going to have to be the average person –  to really try from the bottom up to…influence the education system.”

Inclusion is also necessary to achieve this, says Rampersand.

She says of her recent classes, teaching design, 3D printing, electronics and more, “those teachers I’ve had with me this year have all been women. Last year, most of my shipbuilders were mostly men; 50 men and one woman. This year, 63% of my class are women. So we have to make sure that it’s really inclusive. “My next intake will be 50/50. You know, so we reset the dial.”

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