Auto and Industrial Equipment Manufacturers Need to Prepare for AI

Most companies not yet investing in digital technologies despite their disruptive impact.

For many people, the worst case scenario is that these guys end up hunting us all down. The best case is that they just take our jobs.

For many people, the worst case scenario is that this guy shows up and hunts us all down; the best case is that he just takes our jobs.

Public discourse on artificial intelligence (AI) tends to coalesce around two predictions. The most extreme are the Matrix/Terminator-type scenarios, where the Evil AI enslaves/destroys humanity. The less extreme, but still pessimistic, view is that AI—or more specifically, robotics and automation—will end up taking millions of jobs away from human workers, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

Whether either or both of these predictions will turn out to be true is still up for debate (personally, I’m highly sceptical of the first, much less so about the second), but what’s undeniable is that digital technologies are already disrupting manufacturing.

A recent survey of 102 automotive executives and 562 industrial equipment executives, conducted by professional services company Accenture, found that two thirds of respondents reported experiencing digital disruption. However, half the automotive companies and 60 percent of the industrial equipment companies admitted that they are not yet investing in these technologies as part of their overall business strategy.

(Image courtesy of Accenture.)

(Image courtesy of Accenture.)

The survey also found that the overwhelming majority (94 percent) of the industrial companies surveyed accept that digital technologies and the Industrial Internet of things (IIoT) will radically change the way they need to operate if they are to succeed.

The vast majority (95 percent) also stated that it is either critical or important to evolve their business models to support service-based manufacturing, yet only 10 percent of automotive companies and 18 percent of industrial equipment companies asserted that they are well prepared for this evolution.

Regarding AI, the industrial companies surveyed see it as the new era of computing, which is moving from a mobile-first to an AI-first approach. They expect AI to revolutionize the way in which they gather information from, and interact with, their customers.

They also see AI as a key enabler for smart products, with 54 percent of automotive companies, and 37 percent of IE companies, expecting to see a significant change as a result of AI. No doubt that’s part of the reason Ford recently invested $1 billion USD in an AI startup.

The automotive companies surveyed expect their top areas for AI investment over the next three years to be in deep learning and video analytics, while industrial equipment companies expect their top areas for AI investment to be in robotic process automation and computer vision.

However, many of the industrial companies cited a range of challenges that could slow AI’s adoption. From the auto industry respondents, there was widespread concern that users prefer interactions with humans and a fear over the use of AI technologies.

From industrial equipment companies, the biggest perceived challenge is the integration or compatibility between AI and current IT infrastructure. They also raised concerns about a lack of expertise as a barrier to embedding AI into businesses.

Speaking at Hannover Messe, Eric Schaeffer, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s industrial practice said, “If the labor market’s shortage of analytical talent is any guide, executives can ill afford to ‘wait and see’ if they and their managers are equipped to work with AI and capable of acquiring the essential skills and work approaches.”

What are your biggest concerns regarding AI? Share your thoughts in the comments below.