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Manufacturers Doubled Their Use of AI in One Year

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Rockwell Automation’s smart manufacturing study shows 97% of companies are using technology to solve workforce and other issues.

“We’ve experienced 20 years of evolution in two years.” That’s how Rockwell Automation's CEO, Blake Moret describes the findings of the company’s 8th Annual State of Smart Manufacturing Report. The survey interviewed 1353 global manufacturers on their use and plans for smart technology.

The report offers key trends from the findings, like: ​

  • Almost 2 times as many respondents say they lack the technology to outpace the competition, compared to last year’s survey​
  • 97% of participants reported that they are using or plan to use smart manufacturing technology over the next 1-2 years
  • More than two-thirds of manufacturers believe technology can be very helpful, or extremely helpful, in addressing workforce challenges​
  • More than 50% more manufacturers are using machine learning/artificial intelligence compared to last year

Workforce Issues

Skilled labor – and labor of any kind – continues to be elusive across the globe. As manufacturers seek opportunities for profitable growth, they’re finding that uncertainty in workforce availability is impacting quality. These issues also impact manufacturers' ability to meet their customers' needs. Manufacturers are addressing this impact by using technology to extract data from their operations and assemble actionable insights.

Turning to Technology for Solutions

Technology is helping manufacturers with agility and competitive differentiation. The message coming from this report is that manufacturers see technology as an opportunity to improve quality, agility, and innovation. Technology also helps to attract the next generation of talent. Manufacturers expect to reduce risk through technology. They use it to build resiliency and drive future success.

With higher and higher levels of automation, manufacturers continue to raise the bar for technology. The report reveals that manufacturers see the time for action as now:

  • 75% of organizations will have some components of smart manufacturing in adoption by the end of 2022
  • 60% of all companies are now using either a fully integrated solution or have some components of smart manufacturing in adoption
  • 79% of organizations are prioritizing software that will automate processes

The unprecedented pace of technology adoption is creating competitive pressure across the industry. “To ease the challenge of finding the right solution, manufacturers should focus on selecting technology that does more than provide access to data but offers insights and analytics that align with company value drivers and solve specific pain points in your organization,” Jerry Foster, co-founder and CTO at Plex, a Rockwell Automation company, told Design News. “Respondents acknowledged access to these insights is necessary to maintain a competitive edge.

Sustainability Matters

Sustainability and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) have become integral to manufacturing. The survey found that over 95% of respondents noted some level of sustainability and/or ESG policy over the last two years, whether formal or informal. Regulations are now applying pressure across the value chain for all companies to address sustainability and ESG in their operations. The report shows that manufacturers see smart manufacturing technology as a solution to help with sustainability and ESG.

Artificial Intelligence Awakens

Over 50% more manufacturers are using machine learning and artificial intelligence compared to last year. Rockwell researchers expect this number will continue to rise as manufacturers see the impact that accessible machine learning/artificial intelligence can have on their business. Improved quality, productivity, and workers who use data insights for decision-making are some of the benefits.

Yet a third of manufacturers are hampered by “technology paralysis” – the inability to decide between solutions. “Although more manufacturers are adopting smart manufacturing technologies, they report that they still struggle to use this data to make impactful decisions,” said Foster. “What’s more, for many respondents, the range of available systems and platforms is leading to a technology paralysis and they are unable to decide between solutions.”

Rockwell researchers are very optimistic about the prospects of technology in manufacturing. An overwhelming majority of participants report plans to use smart manufacturing technology. “While the landscape is not predictable, history shows that adversity ignites innovation and creates opportunity. Manufacturers with the right vision, strategy, bias for action, and partners will seize this moment to outpace their competitors and forge a bright future,” said the report’s authors in a statement.

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