Robots, AI and more at the Diverse Manufacturing Supply Chain Alliance Conference

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What happens when people and robots collaborate? And what are the implications cobotics – collaborative robotics – might have on manufacturing?

Those questions and more artificial intelligence-related queries were discussed last month at the Diverse Manufacturing Supply Chain Alliance conference in Cambridge, Mass.

“The artificial intelligence component, that’s probably been in the works for about a decade. But it’s here,” said Joann Hill, Chief of the Office of Business Development for the Minority Business Development Agency. “It’s like the sleeping giant; the rumbling below the surface has erupted.”

Hill, who represented MBDA at the two-day conference and touted the Agency’s advanced manufacturing footprint nationally, listened intently to panels like “AI Is Not Just a Buzzword – 5 Ways Artificial Intelligence is Already Changing the Game” and “The Robots Are Coming: Empowering People Through Automation.” And she couldn’t help but think back to a trip she took to Detroit earlier this year, visiting a few automotive manufacturing plants.

Some of those MBDA clients, Hill thought, would be well-served by hopping aboard the cobotics bandwagon, leaning out their supply chains from end to end with the help of this emerging technology.

“There have been incremental things [in supply chain management] that have come along in the past 10 years, but nothing quite as revolutionary,” Hill said.

That evolution can be seen in almost all facets of supply chain management. The “AI Is Not Just a Buzzword” panel noted that artificial intelligence can be leveraged to “provide visibility of tracking, monitoring and analyzing all aspects of both supplier and customer performance in supply chains.”

Artificial intelligence, coupled with improved data analytics, has already spurred more integration of platforms, which in turn leads to greater efficiencies along the supply chain.

“The Robots Are Coming” panel used Locus Robotics’ products to demonstrate how warehouse operations can be optimized through the implementation of autonomous mobile robots. Using robotics and cobotics are also essential to more effectively responding to e-commerce volume growth and seasonal peaks in business.

The presentation showed how LocusBots operated safety alongside real people, which might understandably give some workers pause. What happens to manufacturing jobs when the robots take over?

“It’s going to be a different skill set that minority-owned firms require of people in the future,” Hill said. “Businesses will still need people, but some things we used to do that a robot can do, the robot will do them. I think some of the questions businesses will ask are, ‘How do we train our employees to work on this computer? How do we make sure our employees gain the necessary skills to become computer programmers or coders or know how to write programming that can tell this robot what we want it to do?’ This is really going to be the key piece of the future with regard to the opportunity and talent and skills that are highly sought after. Business owners must embrace this change.”

From MBDA’s perspective, the four advanced manufacturing centers in Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, and San Antonio and minority business enterprises will work closely together to embrace the changes in the industry as a competitive advantage.  

To learn more about MBDA’s programs and services visit https://www.mbda.gov/.

Last updated: 05/07/2018 - 3:59pm