In the second of a new series of articles, Mike James from ATS highlights how smart advisors are the perfect starting point for the journey into smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0.This article was first published in OnWindows.

I first read about ‘smart advisors’ in a report published by industry analyst Gartner. The idea aligns well with our own belief that decision making will shift away from people to virtual assistants. Already prevalent in the banking and services industry, virtual assistants advise us on a wide variety of choices such as what loan to take out or which local restaurant to choose.

When we think about smart advisors in manufacturing we can imagine them recommending maintenance work, changes in process parameters or schedule changes. However, we generally don’t trust these virtual assistants to make the final decision. We believe that it’s not yet intelligent enough to fully replicate human decision making. Why is this? Actually our mistrust is well founded. Our experience in collecting data from the plant floor tells us that the theory and practice of data collection are not the same. If we want to automate decision making then we must be sure that data is accurate. Any of the thousands of sensors could be giving us inaccurate data, a communication channel might fail or communication might be delayed. There are a myriad of opportunities for failure.

Even so, with Smart Manufacturing and Industry 4.0 we should be able to overcome these problems. Systems are becoming increasingly intelligent, especially when programmers take into account potential points of failure. Smart manufacturing needs smart programmers, the so called super engineers who truly understand virtual and physical manufacturing. In Industry 4.0, people provide the intelligence to autonomous systems, those people have to be really smart. The smart advisor is programmed by a super engineer, it will be iterative and be constantly improved with experience and knowledge.

In a way, the rise of smart advisors is inevitable. The growing complexity of our manufacturing plants, fueled by big data and driven by ever rising requirements of realtime and predictive analytics, means that there’s more information than the human mind can fathom. And so the digital mind and the human mind must work together to provide trusted business solutions.

I think smart advisors are a perfect starting point for the journey into smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 and its an area we’re developing with ATS Bus, our manufacturing service bus. Eventually we expect to see fully autonomous and self-organising manufacturing plants. Until then, smart advisors can be programmed for specific tasks. Once we are confident they can make good decisions all or most of the time then we could approve them for autonomous operations. Many autonomous agents, working together, will become the building bricks of autonomous manufacturing.

Mike James, ATS
by Mike James
Group Chairman Director, ATS Global B.V.

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Robot de Martillo by Luis Pérez (CC BY 2.0)