Talk of automation in manufacturing tends to focus on industrial robots , for obvious reasons. The robotics market is growing at an unprecedented pace and vague worries about job loss due to automation— however misguided —often take shape in visions of robots replacing individual workers on production lines.

SwissCognitiveHowever, there’s a much less tangible form of automation that’s poised to make an even bigger impact on manufacturing in the near future: artificial intelligence (AI) . The concept is notoriously difficult to pin down. “I would say it’s as difficult to define as intelligence itself,” noted Philippe Beaudoin, SVP research at Element AI . But for manufacturers, what matters most is what AI can do.

Manyfold applications of AI

The technology is already seeing applications in construction and additive manufacturing , as well as self-driving vehicles and industrial robotics . Broader applications for AI, ones that could be particularly useful in manufacturing, include analyzing large datasets and predictive maintenance . Of course, most manufacturers aren’t interested in becoming AI experts, which is where Element AI comes in. Offering “AI as a Service”, the company provides applications that allow users to leverage artificial intelligence to tackle a variety of challenges, from speech recognition to automated decision making.

Making good use of data

Element AI primarily works with clients that already have large data sets—such as the shipping schedules for busy ports or production data from factories—rather than gathering that data independently. This lets the company focus on building AI that can, for example, interpret high-frequency time series from distributed sensors on a production line to make maintenance recommendations. As an added benefit, this allows Element AI to improve its systems with each new project the company takes on. That approach seems to be paying off: almost a year ago, the Montreal-based start up had eight employees. Today, after over $100 million USD in series A funding from the likes of Intel, Microsoft and NVIDIA, Element AI has a staff of 160. […]