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'We're Ready for AI, But We Don't Know Where to Start'

Sept. 9, 2021
Creating the platform to collect and use data is one of the biggest challenges for smaller manufacturers.

By Purdue News Service

A quarter of Indiana’s economic output is based in manufacturing, and the transition to becoming data-driven and using artificial intelligence holds the possibility for broad economic impact among manufacturers, who, at this point, are missing a golden opportunity and lagging behind national trends.

That is a finding of a Purdue University study, which also found that those not using the advanced technology are not against the idea. Around 36% of manufacturers responding to the study’s survey said they are interested in learning more.

“They’re sitting on a very valuable asset that they have to convert into information,” said Ragu Athinarayanan, principal investigator of the study and a professor of engineering technology. “They just don’t know where and how to start and what is necessary to start.”

 Athinarayanan said one of the biggest challenges to adopting this technology in manufacturing is trying to create the platform to collect and use the data.

The study, “Artificial Intelligence, Manufacturing, and Workforce Development in Indiana,” was conducted by Roberto Gallardo, director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development, and Athinarayanan. It was funded by Microsoft.

Purdue’s research was prompted by a 2019 national study that found 87% of U.S. manufacturers surveyed said they have adopted or planned to adopt artificial intelligence as part of their operations within two years.

With the study’s results, Gallardo said, Indiana needs to ramp up efforts on a number of fronts to take advantage of the interest Indiana manufacturers have in adopting artificial intelligence.

“Number one is awareness — where can manufacturers start and what can they do,” Gallardo said. “There’s a lot of education and awareness to be done around the topic, which is still a little abstract especially for smaller businesses.

“We also need supportive systems, from higher education to workforce development and policy, to nurture these businesses as they navigate in the AI on-ramp.”

The study also recommended training the current and future workforce in using artificial intelligence and expanding AI-related data availability to include rural areas.

Athinarayanan said the study information offers anecdotal insight to Indiana’s future opportunities for artificial intelligence in manufacturing.

For the study, more than 500 emails with surveys were sent out to Indiana manufacturers, most with fewer than 100 employees. Survey responses were hindered by the outbreak of COVID-19 around the same time.

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