Smart Machines & Factories
Artificial Intelligence becomes a reality
Published:  18 January, 2019

Developing the UK’s IT infrastructure across manufacturing sectors is essential. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) for industrial applications, brings a need for IT specialists to implement such technology, and train the manufacturing workforce on how to use it. Smart Machines & Factories reports.

As the use of AI and AR is becoming a competitive differentiator, IT specialists are more in demand than ever before. Unfortunately for some, the IT talent pool can appear arid — unless you know where to look. Many of today’s leading IT experts are found in the contracting realm.

Expert contractors are ideal to implement projects in the first instance, setting these businesses up to use AI and AR. In fact, Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft said in a recent video: “The thing that’s most exciting to me and what we at Microsoft can do, is to make every company out there really an AI-first company, because they already have customers, they already have data. If we can democratise the use of AI tools, every company can then harness the power of AI.”

So, what exactly is this new technology, and how will the manufacturing industry find it useful? Graham Smith, head of marketing at Microsoft recruitment partner Curo Talent, explained: “Two years ago, Microsoft introduced Dynamics 365. The idea was to create more intelligent, adaptable business solutions that are integrated with Office 365 and built on Microsoft Azure. Now the platform is applying hyped terms, like AI and AR, to real-life work situations.

“Combining business data with Dynamics 365’s built-in AI capabilities helps manufacturers derive actionable insights, make predictions based on previous actions and events, and graduate from being reactive to staying one step ahead. For example, it means that overloaded maintenance workers can focus on the higher impact business processes.”

Microsoft has also launched smart AR glasses — HoloLens. Combined with Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, these are ideal to wear in the factory, where it sometimes isn’t practical to use laptops or other computing equipment. These glasses overlay information on the wearer’s field of vision to troubleshoot faults in machinery.

For example, if an employee discovers a fault in a machine, they can use the glasses to video chat with someone who can offer advice. The person called upon can bring up instructions on the wearer’s view and draw virtual lines on their field of vision to identify specific wires and components.

There is also Dynamics 365 Layout, which can help factory managers to design the floor plan of the production area with new machinery and equipment. In factory organisation, the smallest oversight in a floor plan can cause costly delays. This program lets plant managers visualise the factory layout in 3D, moving machines around using the HoloLens glasses and AR, meaning any issues can be dealt with in advance of a machine delivery.

Whichever way manufacturers choose to use this technology, it’s implementation will require the right access to leading IT specialists. While there’s no doubt IT specialists are in high demand at present, hiring IT contractors over permanent IT employees is one possible solution.

Remember, it’s not just the engineering skills shortage that is posing problems, it’s also the IT skills shortage.