SACA - Artificial Intelligence Transforming Modern Manufacturing

How intelligent are modern manufacturers? According to Albert Einstein, “the measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” By this standard, today’s ever-changing manufacturers are very intelligent indeed.

Most manufacturers will tell you that the one constant they can count on is change. It sounds ironic, but manufacturers know that they must be constantly innovating if they’re going to continue to improve productivity and efficiency.

For many manufacturers, the incorporation of various forms of advanced Industry 4.0 technologies has allowed them to meet new challenges and thrive during an extended period of difficult times caused by pandemic disruptions, supply chain issues, and inflationary pressures.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at one of those advanced Industry 4.0 technologies — artificial intelligence (AI) — that is revolutionizing the industrial workplace. We’ll also discuss how SACA certifications can ensure that your workers possess the advanced skills they need to succeed in today’s evolving manufacturing sector.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “artificial intelligence?” For some, images of sentient robots straight out of a science-fiction movie may jump to mind. Is this what we’re talking about when we discuss AI in the context of modern manufacturing? Of course not!

While robots certainly occupy an important and increasing role in manufacturing facilities around the world, AI is all about computers and data. According to IBM, “[a]t its simplest form, artificial intelligence is a field, which combines computer science and robust datasets, to enable problem-solving. It also encompasses sub-fields of machine learning and deep learning…These disciplines are comprised of AI algorithms which seek to create expert systems which make predictions or classifications based on input data.”

What does AI mean in a practical sense? According to Oracle, “artificial intelligence refers to systems or machines that mimic human intelligence to perform tasks and can iteratively improve themselves based on the information they collect.”

Oracle sums up AI this way:

“AI is much more about the process and the capability for superpowered thinking and data analysis than it is about any particular format or function. Although AI brings up images of high-functioning, human-like robots taking over the world, AI isn’t intended to replace humans. It’s intended to significantly enhance human capabilities and contributions. That makes it a very valuable business asset.”

How Can Artificial Intelligence Improve Workplace Safety?

So how is AI being incorporated into modern manufacturing operations? One area in which AI is playing an increasingly important role happens to be one of the most important considerations in any manufacturing facility: safety.

According to a recent Industry Today article by Rob Schoenthaler, “[i]ncreasing worker safety has become a huge priority to the workplace…As a result, spending on safer equipment became a top priority for companies half a century ago and still continues to this day. Nearly every profession has adopted this principle of prioritizing safety, especially fields that yield higher risks for employees, such as construction and manufacturing.”

Schoenthaler notes that the repetitive nature of the physical labor involved in manufacturing helps employers to identify safety risks. However, he points out that most current safety programs are reactive in nature, intended to minimize injuries when a dangerous situation occurs.

While these safety measures offer some improvement over the dangerous conditions that have existed for years, Schoenthaler argues that “a proactive approach is imperative to prevent these unfortunate situations from happening in the first place.” That’s where AI comes into play.

Schoenthaler explains that “new innovations in manufacturing technology have allowed artificial intelligence to use continuous monitoring of work activity to detect a potential accident before it occurs. AI can now analyze videos filmed by cameras all around the factory floor to detect potential employee safety violations and proactively warn the worker of the danger. For example, if the camera spots an employee wearing the wrong protection equipment or positioned too close to a hazardous vehicle, it will contextualize this data and alert the company so they are aware of the safety hazard.”

For manufacturers, using AI proactively in this way “can significantly reduce safety risks in the workplace.” Indeed, “the technological innovations of AI have proven to be a promising solution for increasing workplace safety, and will be for years to come.”

Of course, “[m]anaging the switch to AI will require employees to be well-trained on new operating procedures and best practices.” Like similar new Industry 4.0 technologies, AI will require highly-skilled workers trained to work with these new technologies to fully reap the benefits.

Supply Chain Woes? Artificial Intelligence to the Rescue!

Does AI offer benefits in areas other than safety? Absolutely! In a recent Industry Today article by John Dwinell, the author details how AI can be used to improve operations and enhance inventory visibility in warehouses and other key components of the supply chain.

Dwinell summarizes the supply chain problems plaguing operations across the country: “Warehouses are buckling beneath the pressure of demand, as e-commerce volumes continue to rise and global supply chains remain in gridlock. Inventory needs to be shipped, and fast, but labor shortages are directly impacting distribution centers.”

He acknowledges that “automation technologies have gained momentum with the rise of robotic systems capable of moving and sorting inventory.” However, he notes that “inventory visibility has been largely left out of the conversation. This has placed warehouse operators in the dark when it comes to critical data, such as product quality assurance and the health of sorting systems.”

That’s where AI paired with image recognition technology makes a critical difference. “When captured and analyzed effectively, data can be a game changer for streamlining operations. Specifically, understanding the quality of inventory and gaining traceability to know where everything is in real time.”

Dwinell explains how these technologies work together “to gain complete inventory visibility and enhance automation and throughput”:

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an image captured within the warehouse is worth a thousand data points. Photos reveal, in real time, the condition of inventory when it arrives by sharing information about all six sides of a package, providing a holistic understanding of quality. Images…are then stored, generally via the cloud, to build a catalog of products. This creates an immense amount of valuable data.”

Dwinell adds that “[b]ecause AI is capable of learning, AI models that are trained well will be able to identify the source of many common problems. One of the biggest advantages of utilizing AI in this capacity is that it does not require coding knowledge to operate, nor assistance from data scientists for model creation. And there’s an added plus: AI can often be integrated with existing warehouse technology, creating a fully automated workflow.”

This is why Dwinell believes that “[a]rtificial intelligence is no longer a ‘nice to have,’ it’s a need to have…image recognition and AI can be the ‘light switch’ that provides visibility into the once-dark distribution lifecycle. Together, image recognition and AI eliminate guesswork, enable greater visibility, and provide automation that will be the deciding factor in which companies can deliver on their promises to customers.”

SACA Certifications Can Ensure Workers Possess the Skills You Need

Manufacturers looking to improve efficiency and increase productivity are increasingly looking to advanced Industry 4.0 technologies to automate their operations and processes. Technologies like artificial intelligence are transforming modern manufacturing facilities, but their adoption is not without hurdles.

Incorporating these new advanced technologies requires hiring workers with Industry 4.0 skills or training current workers to operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair these new systems. Unfortunately, these workers remain in short supply in today’s tight job market.

How can manufacturers ensure that they hire or train people with the advanced skills they need in a modern smart factory environment? Fortunately, they don’t have to figure everything out by themselves. The Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) sits at the forefront of the effort to certify students and workers who demonstrate the required knowledge and hands-on smart automation skills employers so desperately need, including artificial intelligence.

SACA’s certifications were developed in conjunction with industry partners who could speak from experience about their needs when it comes to workers able to work alongside a variety of advanced automation technologies. For example, SACA offers a Certified Industry 4.0 IT Systems Specialist certification that prepares individuals to succeed in information technology technician and engineering positions in modern production environments that use Industry 4.0 technologies.

This certification features a variety of elective micro-credentials that are ideal for individuals seeking to become versed in Industry 4.0 automation, such as: robot system operations and integration; programmable controller systems; industrial Ethernet communications; smart sensors; SCADA systems; Industry 4.0 data analytics; and industrial network security systems.

For workers, SACA certifications can help market their smart automation skills to potential employers. For those employers, SACA certifications represent confirmation that a worker has the skills to hit the ground running in the workplace. To learn more about Industry 4.0 certifications and how SACA can help both future workers and industrial employers begin the task of bridging the Industry 4.0 skills gap, contact SACA for more information.

The Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) is proud to announce the inclusion of SACA certifications on the latest Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) list of approved Industry Based Certifications (IBC). This will allow access for students at Texas’ 3,000+ high schools to become certified in cutting-edge Industry 4.0 competencies and prepare them for jobs in rapidly changing industrial environments. This will aid both the Texas workforce and industry in closing the skills gap that currently exists worldwide as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology continues to be adopted.

The adoption of new IBCs by the TEA is a bi-annual process and certifications must pass a rigid vetting process based around six criteria to make certain that certifications prepare students for in-demand jobs within the current workforce. The TEA ensures the relevance of these certifications by soliciting feedback from industry councils and employers. The inclusion of SACA certification will allow students to enroll in SACA-aligned programs, which will aid school districts by receiving additional funding for students who attain SACA certifications.

The TEA-approved SACA certifications include:

  • Certified Industry 4.0 Associate – Basic Operations (C-101)
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Associate – Robot System Operations (C-103)
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist I – Electrical Systems 1 (C-201)
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist I – Electric Motor Control Systems 1 (C-202)
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist I – Motor Control Troubleshooting 1 (C-204)
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist I – Programmable Controller Troubleshooting 1 (C-208)
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist I – Robotic Operations 1 (C-215)
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist I – Robotic System Integration 1 (C-216)

About SACA

The Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop and deploy modular Industry 4.0 certifications for a wide range of industries. With the help our partners, SACA has created certifications that are industry-driven, developed for industry by industry. They are developed through a rigorous process that begins with the creation of truly international skill standards, endorsed by leading experts in Industry 4.0 technologies throughout the world.


SACA - Industry 4.0 Creates Need for IT & Cybersecurity Experts

The challenges facing industries across the country and around the world continue in the ongoing wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. When you add staggering inflation to supply chain disruptions, it’s no wonder companies everywhere are searching for ways to increase productivity and efficiency.

One of the primary solutions many companies are embracing is a range of advanced automation technologies collectively known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Industry 4.0. The shift to connected-systems technologies began well before the pandemic, but the effects of the pandemic have greatly increased the adoption rate of Industry 4.0 technologies.

Whether it’s adding robots, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), or sensors to machines, Industry 4.0 technologies are gaining ground and making a difference. However, adoption of these new solutions can also create an entirely new set of needs that companies must address.

In this article, we’ll take a brief look at how Industry 4.0 technologies create a need for specialized IT and cybersecurity experts to oversee and manage these new solutions. We’ll also explain how the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) can help companies find the right experts with the advanced Industry 4.0 skills they need to take their businesses to the next level.

Looking to Industry 4.0 for Solutions

Regardless of your industry or the size of your company, no one has been immune from the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent supply chain issues and rising costs associated with inflation. For many companies, it seems like it’s simply one thing after another with a new challenge arising every day.

To combat these problems, companies everywhere are searching for solutions that allow them to increase productivity and efficiency even in the midst of an extremely tight labor market. As a recent Automation.com article by Henry Martel points out, “an increasing number of [manufacturers] are embracing Industry 4.0 to bolster enterprise efficiency by making their manufacturing more aware, predictive, and autonomous.”

But what does embracing Industry 4.0 really mean, in a practical sense? Martel breaks it down for us in his article:

“The shift from Industry 3.0 to Industry 4.0 involves the convergence between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Connecting OT systems to an IT network allows a more detailed view of individual equipment and creates a comprehensive view of the entire ecosystem, simplifying management and operation. Besides allowing machines to be largely operated autonomously without human supervision, Industry 4.0 creates higher value when data collected from intelligent sensors and actuators connected to equipment leads to better decision making, as well as to the ‘learning’ that’s now possible with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).”

For example, Martel explains that “analyzing big data collected from sensors on the factory floor provides real-time visibility of manufacturing assets to facilitate predictive maintenance in order to minimize costly downtime. In this instance, machine learning algorithms detect and target faulty parts before they wear out, rather than wait until repair work is more expensive.”

In addition to machine learning, Industry 4.0 takes advantage of artificial intelligence “to analyze sensor data to track equipment usage, improve workflows, streamline logistics, increase safety, and achieve higher overall efficiency across OT and IT operations.” In this way, “Industry 4.0 unlocks actionable data throughout the plant and beyond, improving operational awareness in manufacturing and maintenance processes.”

The benefits of these new advanced automation technologies are clear, and early adopters are seeing huge gains in both efficiency and productivity. However, these Industry 4.0 technologies do create a new need for companies: IT and cybersecurity experts that can operate, program, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair these intricate and complex systems that generate enormous amounts of data.

The Need for IT & Cybersecurity Experts

A recent Embedded article by Johan Kraft paints a clear picture of the IT and security needs created by these new “immensely complex” IIoT systems. As Kraft notes, “[o]ne of the defining features of Industry 4.0 is distributed sensing. This latest iteration of industrial automation sees a dramatic increase in the sensor nodes used to monitor equipment and processes, all linked up to gateway devices in a complex industrial internet of things (IIoT)…But this also requires more focus on the security of the network to ensure safe operation.”

Why is security such a critical issue with Industry 4.0 systems? Kraft explains: “Most industrial systems have been isolated in closed loop systems. Industry 4.0 opens these systems up to the wider Internet and higher risks of compromise.” Martel agrees:

“But just as these new technologies have created the opportunities for optimization, they have also introduced new risks and security threats, creating a completely different threat vector than PC-based networks. Industry 4.0, for all its benefits, makes ‘Industry’ an appealing target for cyber-attacks. The expanded attack surface gives bad actors the opportunity to move laterally across a network, jumping across IT and OT systems for industrial espionage, intellectual property theft, IP leakage, or even production sabotage. For this reason, cybersecurity best practices must be acknowledged as one of the pillars to a successful Industry 4.0 strategy.”

Kraft points out that security risks to industry are all too real: “The latest Pipedream malware is deliberately targeting industrial automation and SCADA systems. This does not exploit a vulnerability but uses the inherent functions of the programmable logic controller (PLCs).”

Martel sums up the need as follows:

“Before Industry 4.0, OT devices and systems were ‘air-gapped’ to isolate them from risk. That is not possible today. Industrial switches, media converters, and wireless routers must feature robust, DoD-compliant layer 2 and layer 3 security that helps manage network traffic at scale.”

How SACA Certifications Can Help Companies Find the Talent They Need

The need for advanced Industry 4.0 technologies is clear, and their benefits are many. But how can companies unfamiliar with the types of IT issues and cybersecurity concerns involved with Industry 4.0 technologies navigate their way through these obstacles?

Fortunately, they don’t have to figure everything out by themselves. The Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) sits at the forefront of the effort to certify students and workers who demonstrate the required knowledge and hands-on smart automation skills employers so desperately need, including advanced IT systems and cybersecurity.

SACA’s certifications were developed in conjunction with industry partners who could speak from experience about their needs when it comes to workers able to work alongside a variety of advanced automation technologies. For example, SACA offers a Certified Industry 4.0 IT Systems Specialist certification that prepares individuals to succeed in information technology technician and engineering positions in modern production environments that use Industry 4.0 technologies.

This certification features a variety of elective micro-credentials that are ideal for individuals seeking to become versed in Industry 4.0 automation, such as: robot system operations and integration; programmable controller systems; industrial Ethernet communications; smart sensors; SCADA systems; Industry 4.0 data analytics; and industrial network security systems.

For workers, SACA certifications can help market their smart automation skills to potential employers. For those employers, SACA certifications represent confirmation that a worker has the skills to hit the ground running in the workplace.

To learn more about Industry 4.0 certifications and how SACA can help both future workers and industrial employers begin the task of bridging the Industry 4.0 skills gap, contact SACA for more information.