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Commentary: The industrial sector is fired up for AI (Author: Dirk Pothen*)

While the first industrial revolution was propelled by steam power, Industry 4.0 lives off data – the raw material for artificial intelligence. Thanks to AI procedures, manufacturing processes can now be automated at an unprecedented scale. They also make it possible to equip products with new, digital capabilities. From the initial product idea through to maintenance, AI helps optimise the entire value chain in manufacturing. Topics such as cloud infrastructure, big data applications or the internet of things have long since established themselves in the industry. AI-based applications are a relatively new component by comparison, with a small number of realised projects to date. This, however, is about to change, as the use of AI technologies will constitute the key to a company’s success tomorrow.

While AI might still be in the starting blocks in manufacturing, awareness of the technology’s potential is very much present. Our latest AI study with over 100 industrial sector professionals confirms this. A solid 58 % of those questioned placed the use of new technologies at the very top of their agenda. Another figure also really stood out for me: 52 % of the survey participants are sure that investments in AI will lead to competitive advantages over the next five years. That’s a solid 20 percentage points more than we observed in the cross-sector survey. In other words, the industrial sector is fired up for AI. At this point, no one needs convincing about the advantages it offers.

Typical use cases include systems that “learn” based on their operational processes and thereby simplify predictive maintenance, not to mention the collection and analysis of product usage data which allows for brand new financing models or service offers. As it stands, however, industry-specific use cases such as predictive maintenance or digital twins – simulated models of components, processes or systems – are as yet in use at only roughly a quarter of the study participants. One slightly more hopeful takeaway is that a good third of industrial companies already has concrete plans for the introduction of corresponding solutions.

Dirk Pothen

Dirk Pothen, member of the Executive Board at adesso, is responsible for the business units Automotive & Transportation as well as Manufacturing Industry and the subsidiary adesso manufacturing industry solutions GmbH, among others. (Copyright: Martin Steffen)

Now it is up to those in charge. Their task is to create real competitive advantages for their companies on the basis of the potential inherent to the technology. The technology needs to be demystified to help calm the fears of the workforce. Budgets also need to be organised and new personnel hired. AI is changing work across all areas of responsibility and levels of hierarchy, with the shift not only affecting lesser qualified employees but also forcing knowledge workers to adapt to the new environment. For companies, this means the further training of their current employees as well as the search for new personnel with the necessary AI know-how. At the same time – and the numbers from our study really do surprise me here – only roughly half the surveyed companies are currently planning new hires or can imagine doing so. A lack of sufficient AI professionals will ultimately make it very hard to profit from the technology.

The run on artificial intelligence has only just begun, but the manufacturing industry should not be lulled into a false sense of security. Companies are only just introducing the measures that will be decisive in determining who will set themselves apart from the competition in future.

* Dirk Pothen is a member of the Executive Board of adesso SE and is responsible for the company’s Automotive and Transportation and Manufacturing Industry business areas, as well as for its foreign subsidiaries.

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