Fluke Reliability predictions 2024: AI to lead the way in combating manufacturing challenges

By Aaron Merkin, CTO, Fluke Reliability and Ankush Malhotra, president, Fluke Reliability   

News Fluke Reliability

The end of one year and beginning of another is always a good time to assess the state of the industry. In some ways nothing has changed, skilled labour shortages are still plaguing the manufacturing sector, but we’ve seen an uptick in some areas that can help to change this – particularly related to technology like AI. Industrial expansion is driving an increased demand for efficiency, and when you pair that with an aging workforce, expertise-constrained teams are struggling to keep up. As organizations look to overcome these challenges, expect to see growth in the adoption of technological solutions, we’ll explain some of the key areas we anticipate this adoption to occur below. 

The promise of AI to bridge the skilled labour gap

As businesses look for solutions to address the skilled labour shortage, we expect to see growing adoption in two categories of AI.

Traditional AI – This is artificial intelligence in its traditional form, learned data that powers predictive insights. We continue to see a shortage of skilled labour to support the industry overall as well as within reliability programs specifically. Active condition monitoring of assets is a prerequisite for a successful predictive maintenance program. Yet organizations wishing to begin, expand, or sustain condition monitoring programs frequently do not have access to the skilled labor necessary for them to execute these programs internally. We expect to see more organizations adopt applications that augment skilled users and enable them to make faster, more effective decisions. AI will supplant human expertise for analytics use cases, reducing barriers to entry for condition monitoring providers, lowering both skill level and the number of resources required to implement predictive maintenance programs. Solutions that involve AI-powered analytics with a significant amount of learned data already stored lower the barriers to widespread adoption of PdM and can increase the amount of assets measured in a condition monitoring strategy. With the availability of AI-powered analytics and remote condition monitoring services that provide expert analysis on a company’s behalf, even expertise-constrained operations can adopt a data-based maintenance strategy.

Adoption of generative AI – The second category where we anticipate significant growth is the adoption of Generative AI co-pilots by operators, technicians and other plant floor or field personnel. Generative AI can act as a much-needed storehouse for institutional knowledge. As more and more skilled workers reach retirement age and leave the workforce, Generative AI takes on greater importance as a training and educational tool, passing knowledge along to new workers.

AI tools are at their best when they share workflows with human experts. In the year ahead, we expect to see generative AI:

  • performing guided machine maintenance for new workers (and in the process, helping new workers to upskill).
  • providing support to plant managers, especially those tasked with managing multiple worksites.
  • working alongside human experts to provide support on the plant floor.
  • facilitating the shift from experienced, highly skilled labour.
  • replacing low-skilled, entry-level, white-collar labour across the enterprise.

We also anticipate greater outsourcing of narrow expert skillsets to augment staff generalists. The adoption of generative AI will assist in bridging communication gaps, sharing data and insights, and bringing far-flung teams together.

Increase in predictive maintenance for sustainability purposes

Whilst in many industry segments sustainability has been a debated topic for a while, in some ways the impact of a well-run maintenance strategy are either overlooked or left untracked. We expect to see an increased focus on using predictive maintenance to drive sustainability results for businesses, beyond just equipment reliability in the coming years. This includes using predictive maintenance tools for the availability of renewable energy assets, extending asset life to reduce the carbon footprint of industrial equipment, reducing pollution by maintaining efficient running machines, improving energy efficiency by managing engines correctly, and maintaining product quality in a production environment to prevent wastage. Equipment reliability remains the primary focus for most sectors – but momentum in the other areas is driven by increased global concerns about sustainability. Environmental sustainability targets are becoming more important for many organizations, and customers are becoming increasingly observant on how companies are executing on their ESG (environmental, social & governance) goals.

Connected reliability provides an integrated approach to sustainability. Utilizing predictive maintenance and condition monitoring in tandem leads to significant waste reduction and intelligent use of resources. Well-maintained machines use less energy and have a longer life cycle, which translates to a lower carbon footprint and less environmental pollution. The connected reliability approach also reduces plant costs and increases overall productivity, creating a scenario where sustainability yields a net benefit.

Increased availability of IIoT

In recent years, economic pressures have increased the overall emphasis on efficiency and the threat of a downturn isn’t going away. This uncertainty also places emphasis on maintaining, rather than replacing machinery. We expect this trend to reach a new height in 2024, leading to greater adoption of IIoT tools and an increased demand for AI analytics.

In particular, we anticipate greater use of automation across sectors, and a far greater push to keep assets up and running for longer. This in turn will drive more organizations to shift to a condition monitoring / connected reliability approach. Advances in technology have dramatically lowered the cost of continuous measurement and monitoring tools, like wireless sensors. This is already resulting in increased coverage for the balance of plant assets and greater demand for analytic tools. The more assets measured, the more efficient a plant runs which impacts cost, inventory and OEE targets – it’s a win-win.

In 2024, we’ll see more condition monitoring complimented by AI assistive systems deployed across the plant and this should help SME’s with lower entry levels to this technology. All in all, this forms a natural synergy towards greater sustainability, increased penetration of connected reliability, and teams enabled to perform better with the right technology to support accurate decision-making.

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