Artificial intelligence and automation has made greater and greater strides within the manufacturing industry. The question on many people’s minds is just how far these digital tools will go in managing processes that are currently human-led.
Are we moving toward the somewhat mythical “lights out” level of automation, where every single aspect of production is planned and performed by machines, without a person anywhere on the premises?
The short answer to that question is no. We are not anywhere near a “lights out” scenario, and, in fact, complete and total automation is not actually an ideal outcome, for several reasons.
To put this question in proper perspective, let’s look at the role of AI and machine learning in manufacturing, within the specific context of vibration analysis.
What does a vibration analyst do?
A vibration analyst is a skilled worker who monitors equipment in terms of performance and function, flagging any abnormal behaviour and correcting it before it leads to a failure or breakdown. This is an important job in any area of manufacturing, since equipment failure and unplanned downtime is extremely costly for a company. Larger organisations will recruit full-time VAs, however there is a big market for freelance VAs for hire,
As important as this job is (or perhaps because it is so important), more and more companies are choosing to use technology in their equipment condition analysis.
What does a virtual vibration analyst do?
Virtual vibration analysts, which are a type of virtual assistant, perform the very same function that the human version does: they monitor equipment, establish normal behaviour patterns, and send out alerts when abnormal behaviour is detected.
While they perform the same function, one of the big differences between a virtual vibration analyst and a human one is that the former can work non-stop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and can record far more information, far more accurately than a person ever could.
Plus, a virtual vibration analyst can be connected to an overall digital ecosystem that encompasses a whole “workforce” of devices and software to consolidate, streamline, and interpret data in a way that maximises productivity and minimises costs.
Given the incredible efficiency and accuracy of virtual equipment condition analysts, where does this leave human workers? Will they be replaced entirely by machines who can do their jobs better and faster? Is it wise to rely totally on machines to run our factories, warehouses, and processing plants?
Where do humans fit into an increasingly virtual and digitalised manufacturing industry?
While automation will certainly increase in the future, it will never fully replace humans, and here’s why.
AI, machine learning, virtual assistants, and the whole IIoT ecosystem are merely tools that aid human progress and innovation. So virtual vibration analysts can parse and present data in a format that makes it faster to diagnose issues, alert humans to issues ahead of their own ability to detect them, and provide recommendations to correct the issue, but human intelligence will always be needed to weigh the options and ultimately make the right call.
With all of the awe and reverence that tends to build up around technology, it’s important to remember that even the most advanced computers and AI programs are just a poor facsimile of the human brain (or perhaps that’s just my human brain convincing me of such). The computational power, insight, and intelligence that is inherent in the human mind is still hard to match.
Human workers will remain as they always were—an absolutely essential element of the manufacturing industry. And virtual assistants will remain exactly that—assistants to the human ingenuity and effort that drives it all.
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