Manufacturing has changed with changing consumer demand and the rise of robotics, IoT and artificial intelligence.

When I talk to people about Industry 4.0 – that is, at its simplest level, the application of smart technology to manufacturing – many people talk about job loss as if robots led the way in conference rooms around the world. “People are always afraid of change,” Microsoft founder Bill Gates once said. He went on to point out that people fear electricity and coal and gas engines, pointing out that the unknown is perhaps the scariest thing of all.

As a technologist and user of technology, I see this digital story playing out differently.

I feel like a long-distance runner when technology eases a burden or enables people or an organization to achieve their goals. When it comes to manufacturing, let’s explore how the smart factory could use digitalization to empower people to reach their greatest potential.

First, in this modern era of business, a siled approach to problem solving doesn’t work. We need to collaborate across different sectors and countries to find answers. We must be curious, together.

MxD: where innovators play

Some very big players are mobilizing. In a nondescript 100,000 square foot facility near downtown Chicago called MxDAT&T demonstrates how video intelligence using 5G technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) can provide near real-time operations information right on the factory floor.

Although the acronym may sound like a top secret operation from the latest Hollywood thriller, MxD is actually an incredible innovation hub in cooperation with the Department of Defense. MxD literally stands for “Digital Times Manufacturing”. In a space about twice the size of a football field, nearly 300 partners are driving the future of American manufacturing. MxD is a testbed for digital manufacturing technology, new product development, data analysis, and many “what if” scenarios. This is where AT&T is accelerating the deployment of 5G to the American manufacturing industry. The goal is to accelerate the adoption of 5G, a technology Accenture predicts “will create a more seismic impact than any future evolution of wireless technology.”

What about solving real problems for real people?

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Overall, the story sounds fantastic, but I believe that the real growth takes place at the crossroads of technology and humanity. So what is the impact of 5G on people?

First, waste is one of the biggest drains for manufacturers. In lean manufacturing, the goal is to turn raw materials into what customers want to buy. Waste erodes profits and productivity. With AT&T Video Sensor Technology, manufacturers can identify product anomalies based on defined specifications and display real-time notifications. These alerts can then be graphically represented on a dashboard to provide visibility into operations. Intrusion detection as a feature of video intelligence can notify management when someone is approaching the treadmill to help ensure safety standards are met.

Beyond the measurable benefit, there is a human side to this technology. As our work in the factory improves, people have more reason to celebrate measurable progress, to be recognized for a job well done and to be proud of their work.

Another example is security monitoring. Manufacturers can create a “safety zone” in a designated area and receive near real-time notifications to manage operations more efficiently. Object detection as a video intelligence feature can notify management when someone places a non-essential item near the drill press, such as a tool or workpiece.

A third example is inventory tracking. If you’ve ever walked the concrete floor of a factory, frantically searching for parts or supplies you thought were in stock, you know the stressful and expensive side of inventory management. Using AT&T’s technology, manufacturers can detect the number of boxes on a shelf and receive real-time notification when a box is removed. I like this fluid work, à la Fitbit. While applying object detection as a feature of video intelligence, management can also receive alerts if someone places the box outside of the designated area.

Not to be too sci-fi here, but it’s really interesting to see the role of AI and machine learning in AT&T’s IoT video intelligence to help businesses improve efficiency in near real-time. AT&T will demonstrate how manufacturers can use video intelligence to monitor conveyor belt speed and production accuracy, monitor temperatures and maintenance of older equipment, and monitor inventory levels and location. All of this is powered by AT&T 5GmmWave.

Advancing Humanity

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Companies like AT&T and places like MxD make the impossible possible. They advance humanity through ingenuity, collaboration, and the next frontier of technology for manufacturers, people who work in factories, and customers to ultimately benefit from these products. The factory of the future is therefore not something to be feared, but a vision to be adopted and a modern passage to reach our greatest potential.

Disclaimer: This article is sponsored by AT&T Business, but the opinions are my own and do not necessarily represent the positions or strategies of BBN Times and AT&T Business.

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