Google Cloud: COVID-19 accelerates AI use by manufacturers

76% of executives say they have embraced “digital enablers” like artificial intelligence, data analytics and cloud.

Image: Google Cloud

According to new research from Google Cloud, manufacturers around the globe have accelerated their use of digital technologies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the 1,154 senior manufacturing executives polled for the report, “Google Cloud Industries: Artificial Intelligence acceleration among Manufacturers,” 76% said they have embraced “digital enablers” such as artificial intelligence, data analytics and cloud.

“We used to count the number of AI and machine learning projects at Ford. Now it’s so commonplace that it’s like asking how many people are using math. This includes an AI ecosystem that is fueled by data, and that powers a ‘digital network flywheel,'” said Bryan Goodman, director of artificial intelligence and cloud, Ford Global Data & Insight and Analytics, in the report.

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Most respondents (64%) are using AI in their day-to-day operations to assist with business continuity (38%), increase efficiency (38%) and help employees do their jobs better (34%), the report said. Sixty-six percent of this group said their reliance on AI is growing.

The top five areas where AI is being deployed include:

  • Quality inspections (39%)
  • Supply chain management (36%) 
  • Risk management (36%)
  • Product and/or production line quality checks (35%), and 
  • Inventory management (34%).

“AI also applies to many other use cases, from powering connected factories to assisting with predictive maintenance,” the report said. Custom machine learning models “can predict machine events that, left unchecked, could cause unscheduled downtime and negatively impact production schedules. In construction, AI can help builders reduce critical errors that lead to delays – while optimizing energy consumption, and supporting complex logistics and scheduling tasks.”

The top three industries deploying AI today are automotive/OEMs (76%), automotive suppliers (68%) and makers of heavy machinery (67%). AI usage is increasing rapidly in the metals (75%), industrial assembly (72%) and heavy machinery (69%) sectors.

The top five countries whose industries have embraced AI are Italy (80%), Germany (79%), France (71%), U.K. (66%) and the U.S. (64%). Korea (85%), Japan (83%), and the U.S. (81%) are all increasing their use of AI faster than the rest of the world.

There are some headwinds, however. A lack of skilled personnel to implement AI (25%), not having the proper IT infrastructure in place ( 23%) and cost (21%) are the top three reasons cited by survey respondents for not deploying AI, the report said.

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“The key to widespread AI adoption lies in its ease of deployment and use,” the report said. “As AI becomes more pervasive in solving real-world problems for manufacturers, we see a shift from ‘pilot purgatory’ to the ‘golden age of AI’. The industry is no stranger to innovation—from the days of mass production to lean manufacturing, six sigma, and more recently, enterprise resource planning. And now, AI promises to deliver even more innovation.”

About the Survey

The survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of Google Cloud, from Oct. 15 to Nov. 4, 2020, and included 1,154 senior manufacturing executives in France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, the U.K. and the U.S. who work at companies with more than 500 employees.

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