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85% of companies have already invested or plan to invest in artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) this year, says a new manufacturing study from Rockwell Automation.

More manufacturers now see artificial intelligence (AI) as a key ingredient in their recipe for digital transformation. Some organizations call it smart manufacturing.

A survey of 1,500 manufacturers by Rockwell Automation finds that manufacturers continue to face a significant challenge: combining people, processes, and technology to drive long-term business growth and resilience. According to the report, around one-third of manufacturing leaders cite “matching technology and talent to business need” and “effectively managing people and resources” as the biggest obstacles their organizations face over the next year.

How manufacturers are thinking about AI

But manufacturers also continue to see the increased use of AI in various capacities as a key part of their ongoing process for digital transformation. AI ranks as the top capability manufacturers believe will drive the biggest business outcomes. Additionally, 83% of manufacturers expect to use generative AI (GenAI) in their operations in 2024, Rockwell says.

“Results show that AI is core to technology strategies and roadmaps,” Rockwell says. “Adopters are seeing tangible results, with only Cloud/SaaS delivering more return on investment (ROI) than GenAI and causal AI.”

Other findings include:

  • 85% of companies have already invested or plan to invest in AI/ML this year.
  • 95% of manufacturers are using or evaluating smart manufacturing technology — up from 84% in 2023.
  • 94% of manufacturers plan to maintain or grow their workforce due to smart manufacturing technology adoption, with a heavy focus on repurposing workers to new or separate roles and/or hiring more workers.
  • Change management is the leading workforce-related obstacle for manufacturers in 2024.
  • Manufacturers cite “improved quality” as the top positive outcome they hope to achieve from existing smart manufacturing technology for a second consecutive year. Additionally, “quality control” ranks as the top AI/Machine Learning use case in 2024.
  • For the first time, cybersecurity is listed as one of the top five external risks.

“Smart manufacturing technology enables manufacturers to stay competitive, increase agility, and unlock long-term opportunities by connecting and automating the business,” Rockwell says.


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