Virtual smart advisors can boost manufacturing

Virtual smart advisors, similar to what is seen in the banking and services sectors, could help manage and maintain day-to-day operations on the plant floor and help companies realize their smart manufacturing and Industrie 4.0 aspirations.
By Mike James, MESA International September 1, 2017

Virtual smart advisors are a good starting companies looking to start their smart manufacturing and Industrie 4.0 journey. The idea of virtual smart advisors are already prevalent in the banking and services industry as virtual assistants advise users on a wide variety of choices such as what loan to take out or which local restaurant to choose.

When we think about smart advisors in manufacturing we can imagine them recommending maintenance work, changes in process parameters or schedule changes. With a smart advisor, we do not fully trust the virtual assistant to make a decision. We believe that it’s not yet intelligent enough to fully replicate human decision-making.

The reason for mistrust is well-founded one. Anyone who has worked in a plant knows that the theory and practice of data collection are not the same. If we want to automate decision making then we must be sure that data is accurate. Any of the thousands of sensors could be giving us inaccurate data, a communication channel might fail or communication might be delayed. There are a myriad of opportunities for failure.

Even with that consideration, smart manufacturing should be able to overcome these problems. Systems are becoming increasingly intelligent, especially when programmers take account of potential points of failure. Smart manufacturing needs smart programmers, the so called super engineers who truly understand virtual and physical manufacturing. In Industrie 4.0, people provide the intelligence to autonomous systems, those people have to be really smart. The smart advisor is programmed by a super engineer, it will be iterative and be constantly improved with experience and knowledge.

Smart advisors can be programmed for specific tasks, once we are confident they can make good decisions all or most of the time then we could approve them for autonomous operations. Many autonomous agents, working together, will become the building bricks of autonomous manufacturing.

Mike James is immediate past chairman on the MESA International Board of Directors. This article was originally posted on MESA International’s blog. MESA International is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.