Are plants really getting smarter?

Blog Are plants really getting smarter?

The difference between automated and autonomous.

As a data science company, specialized in autonomous decision making, we have experienced quite some misunderstanding of the ability of artificial intelligence (AI) within the aluminum industry. We keep hearing that the aluminum industry is gradually moving towards Industry 4.0 and is just in the testing phase when it comes to applying AI to its core processes. Indeed, we are getting leaner, but does this lead to maximum added value? Are we getting any smarter?

We see the industry is moving quickly now. The front runners are beyond their testing phase and roll-out in core processes is the next step. Actually, we estimate that already 15% of all vehicles being purchased now are automated guided vehicles. But does that really mean that plants are becoming more autonomous?

To answer this question, we have to define the difference between automated and autonomous. An automated machine has the ability to operate certain functions without the interference of humans. An autonomous machine however, has the ability to decide which function to apply and operates without the interference of humans. So an autonomous machine will focus on achieving a certain outcome successfully where an automated machine will ‘blindly’ perform certain tasks not being aware of the actual more holistic outcome. Think of it as optimizing a process flow (getting leaner) vs. realizing the maximum added value (getting smarter, getting better).

The problem is that just having a set of autonomous machines doesn’t necessarily mean that they all intrinsically improve their performance over time. This is where AI and Machine Learning come into picture. If a certain machine is operating autonomously and can learn from its own decisions — and others’ — to perform better next time this gives the ability to have a seamless autonomous operation over time.

This distinction between automated and autonomous machines leads to the key question plant owners and managers should ask themselves: at what level do I want to operate? Do I want automated machines, or do I want an autonomous self-learning factory to unlock the full added value of Industry 4.0 to the aluminium industry?

With the arrival of connected, smart machines, we should now be able to attain that level. But if we are being critical on ourselves, how many steps do we have to take to truly get there?

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Quantillion builds technology for primary metals industry that let every worker, every machine and every plant use data to continuously and autonomously improve safety, quality and output.

If you are interested in what our Industrial AI platform can mean for your organization, we are here to help.

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