Manufacturing must leverage AI to get the most from human touch

21 November 2018

While AI is often spoken of as being a phenomenon that will be bad for jobs in the manufacturing sector, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the human touch will remain an essential asset to the industry. Instead, AI should be wielded to improve the performance of the human workforce, rather than replace it, according to a new study.

The continued march of innovative new Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies have brought with them a host of debates surrounding their implementation. One of the most consistent discussions on the issue is the extent to which automation, machine learning and AI may lead to job losses

While it is still largely impossible to know exactly how much AI will impact employment over the coming decades, the agreement is almost universal that the tech's implementation will see manual labour and manufacturing jobs decline. To this end, the UK has already seen the number of manufacturing jobs fall by 17% over the past decade, with around 620,000 jobs lost, according to estimates based on data from the Office of National Statistics, and much of this was said to be the result of automation.

However, according to a new study by consulting firm A.T. Kearney and AI start-up Drishti, while robots have made inroads on the factory floor, humans are still required for the vast majority of manufacturing tasks. The study analysed the results of one-on-one interviews with senior-level manufacturing employees and a survey of more than 100 executives across a variety of industries, including automotive, metals, aerospace, transportation, plastics, and food and beverage. In the process, researchers found that for now at least, human labour remains essential to the industry.

Importance of data sources

More than 72% of factory tasks are performed by humans, while humans still create an almost equal proportion of value, at 71%. According to the paper, this will see humans remain integral to the manufacturing process for years to come, as they are significantly easier to derive profit from than machines. Robots require significant capital, skilled resources, long installation periods, and attendant programmers and engineers. They cannot be attributed a lower amount of resources, or they cease running. At the same time, somewhat brutally, humans can be paid less than the value of their labour, and find ways to continue functioning.

The report itself added that this also sees the human touch boost creativity, something essential when creating products which can stand out from an ever more crowded market. The researchers wrote, “We can adapt. We are dexterous beyond anything robots are capable of today. And as manufacturers increasingly strive for lot sizes of one to satisfy customer demands for personalization and customisation, these qualities are more valued than ever before.”

At the same time, however, this human element comes with its own degree of risk. To be more precise, it is significantly less consistent than its mechanical counterpart. Survey respondents said that 73% of the variability on the factory floor comes from human workers, not machines. At the same time, a similar 68% of defects were said by the executives to be caused by humans. This suggests that in order to get the best of both worlds, a “centaur” strategy of hybridisation is required, in which AI can be leveraged to source anomalies in the human work and improve upon them.

Operations decisions that are influenced by human factory analytics

To this end, however, the Drishti-A.T. Kearney study found that management was slow to adapt. Citing estimates from the International Federation of Robotics and Goldman Sachs that some 1.7 million robots work alongside the world’s 345 million factory workers, the paper suggested that as of yet the ways in which data is leveraged to manage human labour in manufacturing is limited. A majority of those polled did not feel that leveraging data on poka yoke (systems for avoiding human mistakes) was very or fairly important.

The authors, regardless, state that senior-level engineers spent more than one-third of their working hours manually gathering data about worker productivity and that humans continue to perform the majority of critical manufacturing tasks. Survey respondents said that data on human tasks harvested through these methods heavily or fairly influenced initiatives such as daily staffing (78%); workforce management tasks such as hiring and training (80%); capacity planning (79%); job quotes (77%); process engineering (71%); and identifying automation opportunities (70%).

Commenting on the findings, Prasad Akella, Drishti’s founder and CEO, said, “There isn’t a systematic process for gathering statistics. I can tell you that it’s a pervasive problem in manufacturing based on the numerous meetings I have had with executives in manufacturing. Just about every company I talk to encounters the same lack of visibility into tasks performed by human workers.”


GE Healthcare helping Bradford Teaching Hospitals with AI project

19 April 2019

As the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS trust continues to encounter heavy demand for beds and treatment, GE Healthcare has been working to help reduce the strain on the institution via a new AI-driven Command Centre. The Command Centre is hoped to decrease length of stay, alleviate the need for additional wards and beds and reduce cancellations for non-emergency surgery.

Facing unprecedented demand from the challenges presented by an ageing population and a shortfall in government spending, the NHS is at a cross-roads in its existence. In this environment, implementing time-saving, cost-cutting technological solutions has become crucial to the institution's future. This recently saw the NHS appoint nearly 80 consulting firms, IT consultancies, systems integrators, healthcare specialists and other professional services providers to its Health Systems Support (HSS) Framework.

Among those firms was GE Healthcare Partners, the health technology consulting wing of General Electric Company, an American multinational conglomerate incorporated in New York and headquartered in Boston. GE Healthcare is involved in transformation projects in national healthcare systems around the world, and recently received a ‘highly commended’ recognition at the 2019 MCA Awards for its work with the Dubai Health Authority towards transforming the local sector into a world-class hub for healthcare. Last year, the firm also won the ‘International’ award for its project with the Saudi Ministry of Health.

GE Healthcare helping Bradford Teaching Hospitals with AI project

In the UK, GE Healthcare has taken on a role collaborating with Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to build a Command Centre – like that of an air traffic control – at the Bradford Royal Infirmary (BRI). One of the first of its kind in Europe, the Command Centre will transform how care is delivered and organised as the number of patients at the hospital continues to increase. Utilising artificial intelligence (AI), it will provide a clear, instant, and real-time overview across the 800-bed hospital and help staff make quick and informed decisions on how to best manage patient care.

According to GE Healthcare’s website, up to 20 Trust staff based in the Command Centre will monitor a “wall of analytics” that constantly pulls in streams of real-time data from the multiple systems at the hospital. Advanced algorithms will help staff to anticipate and resolve bottlenecks in care delivery before they occur, recommending actions to enable faster, more responsive patient care and better allocation of resources. The data will be displayed on multiple high definition screens in the Command Centre – as well as on tablets and mobile devices, providing 24-7 support to busy medical teams across the hospital.

Over 96% of bed capacity at BRI is used regularly and it has 125,000 A&E (Emergency Department) attendances each year, up by more than 40% over the past decade. The Command Centre program will ideally help meet the vision of Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to decrease length of stay, alleviate the need for additional wards and beds, and reduce cancellations for non-emergency surgery.

Commenting on the changes, Professor Clive Kay, Chief Executive of Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said, "Demand for services is growing at Bradford Teaching Hospitals every year. The Command Centre will enable us to optimise our use of resources and improve how we move patients around the hospital for treatment and successful discharge. Around 350-400 patients come through our A&E every day, and relieving pressure on our 6,000 staff means they can spend more time delivering care, and less time organising care."

Set to open in Spring 2019, the Command Centre will be centrally located in a refurbished space at the BRI site. It will help to reduce unnecessary time spent in hospital after a patient is medically ready to leave, increase the proportion of patients who arrive and are admitted, transferred or discharged from A&E within four hours, and help ensure that patients are always treated in the wards best suited to manage their care.

Command Centres have been successfully deployed by several hospitals in North America, including The Johns Hopkins Hospital, a major not-for-profit 1,100 bed hospital in Baltimore. Since the John Hopkins Command Centre began operating, patients from other hospitals have been transferred 60% faster, Emergency Room wait times have been cut by 25%, and operating theatre wait times for post-surgical beds have decreased by 70%.

Jeff Terry, GE Healthcare’s Command Centre CEO, said of the initiative, “GE Healthcare’s vision is to enable precision health. We are honoured to serve the NHS Bradford team as they look to deliver the most effective patient care.”