Manufacturing AUTOMATION

The AI conversation continues

March 29, 2019
By Kristina Urquhart

March 29, 2019 – In my last letter, I asked you about how artificial intelligence (AI) factors into your operations. We’ve published one comment in our March/April 2019 issue (p. 4) from a reader who notes that unless a manufacturer solves pre-existing production inefficiencies, a costly AI system won’t provide much ROI.

As I was about to send that issue to press, I received a letter from another reader about the industry’s use of the term AI to describe what he says is not in fact artificial intelligence at all, but rather mining of big data combined with machine learning. Semantics, maybe, but he makes good points (we’ll publish his comments in an upcoming issue). He also built on the aforementioned letter, and pointed out that implementing hardware and software isn’t always where the expenses end for manufacturers – often, AI-branded software must be customized, too, which comes at a further cost.

This conversation is one I suspect we’ll be having throughout the year. It’s serving as a suitable backdrop to this month’s feature article, “Artificial Intelligence Meets the Real World,” in which Jacob Stoller, a business journalist, investigates where Canadian manufacturers are at with AI in 2019. His interviews corroborate the findings of the Forbes Insights report I quoted in my January letter – that Canada is in a nascent stage when it comes to AI, but it’s because manufacturers are still testing, and they (rightfully) won’t bring it to scale without proper plans in place.

When we first discussed the direction for the article, Jacob told me that based on his talks with industry leaders, he’d been getting the sense that manufacturers are starting to cut through the media- and sales-fuelled expectations about what AI might be able to do for them. As a result, he thought we may actually be in a stage of what he called “semi-automation” – or AI technologies used in conjunction with human operators. The experts consulted in our cover story confirm that “semi-automation” may be not only an appropriate term for what’s currently happening in Canada, but also a more realistic concept for manufacturers to budget for.


Planning for digital transformation in general is perhaps where the focus should be for Canadian manufacturers – because with the correct infrastructure in place, any future AI integration should, in theory, be more seamless. Enterprise resource planning is one way to do that. On that note, I’m pleased to introduce a new quarterly column called “Across the Enterprise” (p. 12), written by Jonathan Gross, managing director at Pemeco Consulting.

Alongside the column, which will help you prepare your plant for Industry 4.0, Jonathan is leading a webinar series co-presented with Manufacturing AUTOMATION called Integrating the Enterprise: ERP Best Practices, where he will delve into more detail on these topics, and offer the tools you need to create your blueprint for digitalization. Our first free webinar, “The IIoT: ERP Best Practices,” took place March 21, 2019 at 1 p.m. EST and covered the building blocks of digital transformation – from the cloud and big data to AI and cybersecurity.

Speaking of the latest technologies, I’ll be at Hannover Messe from April 1 to 5. If you’re attending the fair, too, let me know via email or social media. It would be great to meet you and continue this AI conversation!


This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION. Read the digital edition here.

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