The revival of American industry is underway despite pervasive challenges such as labor and supply chain shortages, rampant inflation, rising interest rates, and market uncertainty. To meet the challenges of today, 65% of business and IT decision-makers are turning to automation.
But what is automation exactly? At its core, automation is a way of making systems work with less human intervention by using information technologies that work together to make decisions in a range of contexts. These technologies can include 5G, IoT, computer vision, and artificial intelligence. Many firms adopted these technologies over the past decade of digital transformation. In this way, past efforts to digitize business processes have paved the way for today’s supercharged automation use cases.
While the benefits of automation can be vast, implementing it is no cake walk.
“What holds companies back from reaching higher levels of automation is the blocking and tackling around standardizing data and optimizing the connections that transform data into information,” said Zee Hussain, Senior Vice President of Industry Solutions at AT&T Business. “Connected technologies such as autonomous factory equipment, wireless inventory trackers, or wearable health monitors help connect the dots about what is going on in and around a system.”
It is here—in the connecting of devices, sensors, and systems—where Zee and his team at AT&T Business spend their days.
Connected technologies such as autonomous factory equipment, wireless inventory trackers, or wearable health monitors help connect the dots about what is going on in and around a system.Zee Hussain, Senior Vice President of Industry Solutions at AT&T Business.
Connectivity underpins automation. As Zee explained, the more data a system can retrieve about its internals or environment, the more it can operate without human intervention. Because AT&T Business provides connectivity to 2.5 million businesses of all sizes, Zee and his team see a lot of automation use cases. Below are a few automation stories that have come across their desks recently. AT&T was directly involved in some of these stories but not all. Yet, all the stories contain insights that can inspire businesses to be enterprising with automation to meet today’s challenges.
Near-real-time insights can lead to enormous cost savings in industrial settings. That’s one reason why Boston Dynamics, an innovative firm known for its Spot robot, embraces automation. The company’s Spot robot is working in industrial settings — such as power plants, construction projects, and manufacturing facilities — to help customers save time inspecting equipment. And Spot is now connected with AT&T 5G.
Ford is an example of where a highly automated, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility is core to its quest to compete and excel in the electric vehicle (EVs) market. On the production line of the all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning pickup, workers will carry AT&T 5G-powered tablets or smartphones to transmit and receive information about equipment status and material supply. The phones’ cameras will be used to scan vehicle components for quality assurance. Ultimately, this smart, low-latency tech enables faster processing times to help ramp up EV production.
Cellares describes itself as a “factory in a box” for industrial scale cell therapy manufacturing. Cell therapy works by collecting cells from a patient, modifying them, and injecting the modified cells back into the patient. (Here is an example of how cell therapy is being used to fight cancer.) The cell therapy manufacturing process is often manual and error prone. With automation, Cellares aims to cut process failure rates “threefold” and reduce per-patient manufacturing costs by up to 70%. The company says its form of complete automation represents the future of cell therapy manufacturing.
Smart Meter is another company in the healthcare industry that is transforming the delivery of real-time health data to physicians by combining 5G and automation. The cellular-enabled Smart Meter devices measure and collect patient-generated health data, such as daily blood glucose, pulse rate, oxygen saturation, weight, and blood pressure measurements. The data is automatically delivered through a dedicated AT&T IPSEC tunnel to the Smart Meter platform and to physicians helping them monitor the health and trends of their patients. Using this approach physicians are increasing patient adherence, adding new reimbursable services, and delivering better outcomes.
Railway operations require routine inspection and maintenance of train tracks and equipment. But inspection without automation is often inefficient, expensive, and prone to error. Cogniac’s AI-powered computer vision solutions flip that script. As each rail car speeds up to 60 mph, the Cogniac platform, which includes multiple bi-directional high-resolution cameras, visually inspects tracks, wheels, and other assets for cracks and defects. The data platform provides prompt, actionable information to control devices or human operators.
Few people have ever enjoyed waiting in line at the DMV to renew or establish a vehicle registration. Vitu has seized an opportunity to automate the entire process from end to end, improving efficiency for governmental agencies and creating a better customer experience. Vitu’s Driver platform supports mobile payments and stores vehicle registrations in a digital wallet, setting automatic renewals, and streamlining the entire process.
Automation building blocks
“Work is more fun when there is variety,” Zee said. “Let the machines handle repetitive tasks like data entry and analysis so your workforce can focus on higher-order decision-making. For example, you might not need a human to inspect everything coming off a manufacturing line. Computer-vision sensors can scan for quality defects and send the exceptions over to a human staff member.”
What’s the best way to approach industrial automation?
Zee recommends starting with simple tasks. “At a clothing factory today, that could mean using computer vision to find stitching defects,” Zee said. “On a fleet of trucks, you could start with electronic logging software. Once tasks are automated, they can produce data that can support the automation of higher-order functions.”
As industrial sectors see a return on investment in production automation and more firms deploy enabling technologies such as 5G, AI, and edge computing, the global economy will reap the benefits of this innovation. Workers will be freed from undesirable chores. Automation will likely be key to staging a full-fledged revival of American industry.
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This post was created by Insider Studios with AT&T.