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Stuart Carlaw

Every industrial manufacturing company is looking to implement technologies to help them manufacture their products smarter, cheaper, better and faster. The question becomes, “Which technologies will transform my traditional factory into an Industry 4.0 factory?”

To answer that question, analysts from across ABI Research’s 22 research areas gathered and held an industrial manufacturing roundtable to discuss and identify the six transformative technologies that will most affect the market.

But then we took the discussion one step further. We asked ourselves, “If I were and industrial manufacturer, what pertinent questions should I be asking that will help me make key transformative technology decisions moving forward?”

And the most compelling transformative technologies impacting manufacturing — and the questions all of you industrial innovators should be asking are:

No. 1 - Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Q: What is the most suitable implementation of AI for industrial companies? Full edge implementation (e.g., both training and inference on-premise)? Cloud AI? Hybrid implementation (inference on edge and training at the cloud)?

A: Many manufacturing industries are dealing with mission-critical tasks that need real-time actions (e.g., predictive/proscriptive maintenance, chain switch in case of chain overload, operation flexibility). Any communication failure with the cloud or delay in receiving the right data could result in significant latency in the chain operation. In addition, manufacturers are often skeptical of sharing sensitive data with the outside world and consider the security of their infrastructure a key priority. Manufacturers should be meticulous in choosing the best approach to implement AI and first need to decide on the use case they want to address. This choice should be based on the balance between cost, efficiency, security, and data protection. 

No. 2 - Blockchain

Q: What is the advantage of implementing blockchain in a manufacturing supply chain?

A: Blockchain can add a level of transparency in an increasingly complex manufacturing supply chain, providing immutable information about origin, parts, identity, ownership, certification, maintenance, and other data, that can be useful to all participants from manufacturer to end-user. In addition, smart contracts leverage automation and AI to administer prognostic health management, remote diagnostics, and predictive maintenance for industrial machinery, thus, cutting out time-consuming human resources that would otherwise be required. 

Q: Won’t blockchain put some middlemen out of business?

A: There are business models in which centralizing data about manufactured products, especially between manufacturers and wholesalers, has created a lucrative reselling opportunity. This is notable, as price points can be more easily obfuscated. The blockchain may well put some of these companies out of business, but it will benefit the broader industrial ecosystem in the long run through better transparency. Furthermore, new business models can be created around the blockchain platform management that can replace siloed, opaque transactions with end-to-end visibility management.

Q: How can blockchain address the problems of counterfeiting and IP theft?

A: Increasingly complex manufacturing processes have expanded the use of contract manufacturing. This growing number of external parties has actually enabled IP theft and counterfeit production. Blockchain applications can be designed not only to assign and track identities of manufactured products but also to monitor those identities across their lifecycle. Not only can designs be locked down in the block itself using cryptography, but when illegitimate copies start appearing on the blockchain, tracking and monitoring software can also help determine when and where those products were counterfeit, and immediate remediation can be sought.

Find Part 2 here. 

Stuart Carlaw is Chief Research Officer at ABI Research.

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