AI Saves Energy Costs in Iron Foundry

Will Artificial Intelligence Impact Every Industry?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) seems to be everywhere you look these days. Some laud AI as an exponential step forward in what technology can do to transform our jobs and lives. Others fear AI could be dangerous if used nefariously. Of course, authors like Carlos E. Perez in a recent Medium article jokingly play devil’s advocate: “Do you know what’s more dangerous than artificial intelligence? Natural stupidity.”

In all seriousness, it’s clear that AI has arrived and is here to stay. We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to its applications. Manufacturers across the country and around the world are already implementing AI solutions in a variety of ways. For example, in a recent TechTarget article by Lindsay Moore, the author gives several examples of ways manufacturers are using AI today, including:

  • collaborative robots (cobots) working alongside humans;
  • robotic process automation (RPA) software handling tedious and repetitive tasks;
  • digital twins providing insight into the performance of machinery;
  • predictive maintenance improving safety and lowering costs;
  • lights-out factories utilizing a robotic workforce with minimal human interaction;
  • machine learning algorithms predicting demand;
  • inventory management systems smoothing out supply chain issues; and
  • visual inspection systems detecting faults in real time.

Some manufacturers may look at a list like this and fail to see how AI could help their particular industry. After all, aren’t there some industries that tend to be more on the low-tech side of things? Take your average iron foundry, for example. Melting down metal, pouring it into a mold, and letting it cool to solidify to make a wide variety of cast metal objects doesn’t seem like it would hold great potential for implementing AI, right? Wrong!

A recent Foundry Management & Technology article details how Danish iron foundry Vald. Birn A/S implemented AI technologies ”to optimize the process of filling sand molds,” resulting in significant energy savings. The foundry produces cast metal “parts for commercial vehicle manufacturng, construction and material handling machinery, hydraulic systems, transmission systems, heavy machinery, and defense systems.”

According to the article, the foundry adopted new AI technology “to monitor and analyze molten-metal pouring.” Here’s a brief breakdown of how it works:

“two laser beams are positioned to precisely locate a molten metal stream as it enters the mold, to control pouring in a way that is repeatable and reliable. As the stream enters the mold, sensors collect pouring performance data and software evaluates the information to continuously optimize parameters, to avoid slag build-up, variations in temperature and launder level, wear conditions for the stopper and nozzle, and similar problems that reduce dosing effectiveness.”

Birn CTO Lars Jørgensen noted that “[t]he technology helps us save a significant amount of energy because precise dosing into the molds is essential for determining the exact amount of energy needed to fill the molds adequately and allow the molten metal to flow perfectly into the molds.”

Iron foundry workers need not be worried about being replaced by AI, however. Jørgensen explained that “[t]he technology is a great aid to our operators, but it certainly cannot replace them in the whole process. It essentially serves as a skilled assistant, helping to optimize the pouring processes while operators can take samples of molten iron and perform other specialized tasks.”

Even if AI does not replace workers, the workers of today and tomorrow will need to learn new skills to keep pace with the advanced technologies being implemented in the modern workplace. That’s why manufacturers are increasingly looking to hire highly skilled workers that can operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair advanced automation systems.

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing “skills gap” facing industries across the country, finding highly skilled workers remains a significant challenge. How can employers be sure that workers have the hands-on skills they need to succeed in the modern workplace? Today, more and more employers are looking for workers with industry-standard certifications that prove they have the skills needed.

For example, if workers possess a certification from the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA), employers can feel confident they’ve already proven they have the knowledge and hands-on skills needed for working with advanced smart automation technologies. SACA has been hard at work collaborating with industry leaders to develop a wide variety of industry-standard certifications that will help employers find workers who possess the advanced connected-systems skills they need to take their businesses to the next level. Be sure to check out SACA and all it has to offer!

Certs Facilitate Skills Based Hiring Featured Image

It’s no secret that industries around the world continue to struggle to fill open positions. Despite the ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, industries such as manufacturing still need more highly-skilled workers than they can find.

What’s going on? Experts point to the ongoing “skills gap” issue that has plagued industries for years now. With the implementation of a wide variety of new advanced automation technologies, industry needs workers with more advanced technical skills than ever before. But where are they?

The supply of such workers continues to lag far behind demand, creating the shortages we’re seeing today. To combat these issues, many industries are making bold moves to find a solution. One trend gaining momentum is a new focus on skills-based hiring, which has led many employers to ditch advanced degree requirements in favor of searching for workers with the particular skills they need.

A switch to a skills-based hiring model isn’t necessarily intuitive for many industries that have always relied upon traditional four-year-degree requirements as a proxy for qualified applicants. Those making the switch, however, have found an easy way to help find workers with the skills they need: industry-standard certifications.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the move toward skills-based hiring. We’ll also dive into how industry-standard certifications make it easier for employers to feel confident that the workers they’re hiring have the skills they need to hit the ground running. Finally, we’ll explain how the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) has assembled a comprehensive set of industry-standard certifications and micro-credentials that can help any employer hire workers with the advanced technical skills they’ll need to thrive in the modern industrial workplace.

The Move to Skills-Based Hiring

For years, secondary schools have pushed students toward traditional four-year degrees. Why? That’s what employers have traditionally required to get hired. If you looked at job listings before the pandemic hit, you’d see listing after listing that included a requirement of some type of four-year degree.

Today, however, the hiring landscape is slowly changing. The number of open positions and the lack of highly-skilled workers to fill them have forced industries across the country to reevaluate their hiring practices.

According to a ComputerWorld article, many employers are finally realizing their degree requirements have been hindering their hiring efforts. The article notes:

“Among middle-skilled occupations, the openings that require college degrees are, for the most part, similar to those openings for which no degree is required, according to a recent study by Harvard Business School’s (HBS) Project on Managing the Future of Work and the Burning Glass Institute. ‘Jobs do not require four-year college degrees. Employers do,’ the study said. That realization is prompting companies to consider a shift in hiring practices that recognizes the nontraditional paths many have taken to develop technology skills — paths that don’t require a degree.”

The article also notes that the shift to skills-based hiring has begun to take off in the information technology sector: “with a 2% unemployment rate, the tech industry is rethinking what job applicants need to get hired. Skills-based hiring is on the rise, and 59% of employers are considering eliminating college degree requirements — changes that could reshape the IT workforce.”

What about the world beyond IT? According to a Harvard Business Review article, “employers are indeed resetting degree requirements in a wide variety of roles. The change is most noticeable for middle-skill positions — defined as those requiring some post-secondary education or training but less than a four-year degree.”

The Harvard Business Review article concludes: “[i]n evaluating job applicants, employers are suspending the use of degree completion as a proxy and instead now favor hiring on the basis of demonstrated skills and competencies. This shift to skills-based hiring will open opportunities to a large population of potential employees who in recent years have often been excluded from consideration because of degree inflation.”

The Role of Certifications in Skills-Based Hiring

If you’re a human resources professional, the obvious question you might be asking is: “how can I ensure candidates possess the skills needed if they don’t have a four-year degree?” This is a valid question, because most employers aren’t necessarily equipped to assess a candidate’s skill levels on their own.

If only there was a way for candidates to prove to prospective employers that they have the skills needed to be successful. We’re joking, of course, because candidates have been using industry-standard certifications to do exactly that for years now.

A wide variety of industry-standard certifications exist that certify that prospective workers possess the knowledge and, in many cases, proven hands-on skills in a particular area. Certifications come in many shapes and sizes, from micro-credentials that certify expertise in a narrow subject-matter area to more robust certifications that encompass a wide range of skills, such as all the necessary skills involved in industrial maintenance.

As skills-based hiring becomes more popular, it will be necessary for employers to become more familiar with the variety of certifications and credentials available to evidence the skills they seek. It will also be critical for educators and industries to work together to promote and encourage alternative credentialing.

A Deloitte report echoes this need:

“Alternative credentialing can encourage reskilling amid rapidly evolving technology. The shrinking shelf-life of digital skills requires continuous reskilling. Employers desire tracking and verification of those skills. As a result, the job market increasingly calls on training providers and academic institutions to offer “credentialized” records of learning and mastery. Rather than relying heavily on two- and four-year degrees, skill-specific microcredentials, digital badges, or certificates specify the exact technologies an applicant has mastered. This simplifies career shifts and employee selection, making labor markets more efficient.”

Fortunately, many economic and workforce development organizations around the country are already focusing more on certifications. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “[t]o better their workforces and provide additional economic opportunities to those who need it most, many states have put a focus on expanding postsecondary options for adult learners. These opportunities range from promoting career and technical education to expanding nondegree credentialing options.”

How SACA Certifications Facilitate Skills-Based Hiring

For companies looking for highly-skilled individuals to fill open positions, a good place to start is searching for prospective workers with certifications or micro-credentials from 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.

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 certifications in many key areas for a variety of industries, including basic to advanced operations; robot systems; and IIoT, networking, and data analytics.

SACA also offers specialist certifications, as well as micro-credentials, related to a variety of in-demand skills for systems such as automation, electrical, mechanical, fluid power, controls, and instrumentation. SACA’s certifications come in two forms: silver certifications are earned upon passing a knowledge exam and gold certifications are earned upon passing a hands-on skills test.

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.

About Duane Bolin

Duane Bolin is a former curriculum developer and education specialist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Duane on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.

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.