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The Digital Future: The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Manufacturing

Companies are in a race to embrace digital technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) in manufacturing. These technologies are critical drivers that enable Industry 4.0 and will ultimately empower manufacturing to continue to be the backbone of the global economy.  

Embracing digital technologies, like AI, enables manufacturers to meet the ever-changing demands of their customers. We are seeing increased customer demands for fast pivots on design, materials, packaging and production volume in the electronics goods market. In some instances, these requirements can put a strain on resources – impacting not only product quality but also profitability. Digital technologies provide the edge that manufacturers need to grow and adapt to these fast-changing demands. 

With a vision to become the world’s most technologically advanced and trusted manufacturing solutions provider, we are constantly assessing how we do things and why we do them a specific way. This means that we embrace change when it brings value to the delivery of manufacturing services for our customers. 

If we are unable to offer technologically advanced, cost effective, quick response manufacturing services that are differentiated from our competition and adapt those services as our customers’ requirements change, demand for our services will decline. (Jabil 2018 Annual Report

The Challenge: Maximizing Manufacturing Capacity & Supply Chain

Industry-wide, manufacturers are facing a range of challenges that make it difficult to speed production while still providing high-value and high-quality products to their customers. All the while, companies need to implement a digital infrastructure that positions them to fully embrace the skills and knowledge of their best assets – people. 

The explosive growth of the electronics goods market, coupled with Jabil’s deep motivation to “get it right the first time” means that there is little room or time to waste when embracing AI. The customer requirements for delivering on-time and on-budget product are of the utmost importance, and efficiency is a goal in everything we do. AI’s ability to drive impact in this regard is real. For example, we recognized that we had to modernize our quality inspection techniques to meet the demands of one-off production lines. 

To do this, we had to overcome some key manufacturing challenges:

  • Speed and customization demands
  • High revenue volatility
  • Multiple products, multiple customers – all at the same time
  • Short production time frames
  • The requirement for maximizing efficiency
  • Manufacturing capacity and supply chain demands
  • Upgrades to traditional inspection techniques
  • Learning and adaptability on the manufacturing floor

Innovation for the right reason is key to why and how we do things at Jabil. However, innovation is not static; it is constantly alive and changing. This resonated with us when we identified improvement opportunities in our computer-based automated optical inspection (AOI) process. We believed we could make it even better. 

For example, assembly line systems require skilled engineers to build and hard-code algorithms to help the system identify good and defective components. These systems, while effective, lacked the ability to learn or adapt, resulting in a false positive rate as high as 30 percent. This had a cumulative impact of 200 lost minutes per day spent manually checking component diagnoses.

While AOI was innovative – it was no longer the best way for us to meet our customer’s expectations. We are always driven by a common goal – to operate as quickly and efficiently as possible. It is a goal that has deep rewards for everyone – our customers, our employees, suppliers and global manufacturing as a whole. 

Enter AI. 

AI is the digital technology that enables Jabil to overcome manufacturing challenges with a solution that can adapt, learn and grow to support our business and our customers. 

At Jabil, our employees are our greatest asset. With AI, we can empower our people to use their strengths and knowledge to build better productivity, drive greater job satisfaction and enable the most innovative and creative work. 

Consider how “Project Brainwave” allowed us to leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) to connect manufacturing processes to key cloud capabilities. 

By taking advantage of computer vision and machine learning, we overcame the challenges facing our AOI inspection process leading to key assembly line improvements, including:

  • Improved automated processes
  • Early error detection in production
  • Leveraging data to its fullest capacity
  • Scalable and transferable learning
  • Enabling a shift to higher value roles for skilled staff

AI enables Jabil to increase throughput and scale products more effectively and at higher speeds by allowing us to use more interchangeable systems. This enables our teams to improve flexibility with products that are delivered on a single line, supporting smaller, more cost-effective batches. This further enables customization of the product on a just-in-time scale and drives a more efficient supply chain that maps to demand.  

What’s Next for AI and Manufacturing?

Technology has the power to transform and this is exactly what AI is doing for manufacturing. As AI’s presence in the industry grows, experts predict it will be a game-changer: a recent survey from the Boston Consulting Group and MIT Sloan Management Review found that 84 percent of executives expect AI to enable them to obtain or sustain a competitive advantage.

We’re only scratching the surface of how we can marry the best of AI, Industry 4.0 and our people to deliver the most technologically advanced manufacturing solutions in the world.

This is an exciting time for everyone. At Jabil, we’ve invested heavily in AI, making it integral to how we serve our customers. This is happening in our supply chain, on our assembly lines and in our quality control processes. It’s revealing insights that drive better products, systems, solutions, innovations and levels of employee engagement and learning. It doesn’t get much better than that. 

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