By enabling “ask and expert” capabilities, generative AI like Microsoft Copilot will transform manufacturing

BrandPost By CIO Contributor
29 Feb 20244 mins
Generative AIInnovation
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Manufacturers are increasingly looking to generative AI as a potential solution to these and other challenges. Research from Avanade, a technology expert that specialises in the Microsoft ecosystem and partner solutions, suggests that 92% of manufacturers aim to be AI-first within a year. This is an ambitious target given that just 7% currently use AI on an hourly basis to inform their real-time operations.

The growing sophistication and relevance of AI is fuelling interest in its use. Microsoft’s Copilot is a case in point. The tool enables businesses to extract intelligence from across a diversity of different data sources using large language models (LLMs – a type of generative AI capable of producing human-like text).

Microsoft Copilot enables a range of game-changing use cases for manufacturers, such as its “ask-an-expert” capability. According to Brendan Mislin, General Manager for Industry X at Avanade: “Microsoft Copilot enables manufacturing professionals to navigate complex tasks, automate repetitive processes, and improve work efficiency using simple, natural-language prompts.”

The ask-an-expert tool enables manufacturers to increase productivity, drive down costs, and improve employees’ work-life balance. Mislin explains: “Quality control is often a time-consuming and inefficient process in manufacturing. With Microsoft Copilot, quality control managers no longer need to trawl through different manufacturing execution, materials management, and workforce scheduling systems to troubleshoot an issue. Instead, they can use one simple interface for an immediate answer. For the employee, that’s the difference between working overtime to solve a complex problem and getting home promptly to see their family.”

Using Microsoft Copilot, workers can also better avoid quality issues that in can cause safety issues and put lives at risk. In the automotive industry, for example, there were recalls of 300 different makes and models of car in the US in 2022 alone. In one case involving air bags, 60 to 70 million vehicles were recalled worldwide, across at least 19 manufacturers, costing close to €25bn. Ask-an-expert tools can help through real-time insights on safety standards and potential defects, operators proactively identify and mitigate risks before a product gets to market.

Preparing data for an AI-centric world

The benefits of Microsoft Copilot and other generative AI tools can only be achieved with a strong data foundation. This can be a major challenge. Manufacturing generates immense volumes of structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data, thought to be double to four-times larger than industries such as retail, media and financial services. What’s more, manufacturing data is growing at exponential rates, estimated at 200-500% over the next five years. Much of this data is siloed, which makes it difficult to use in large language models.

Mislin believes that industrial-grade data fabrics can help solve this challenge. “The data fabric is a key,” says Mislin, “it delivers a seamless management and integration layer, combining all relevant data from diverse factory automation, enterprise resource planning and supply chain management systems, in addition to external sources. When integrated with digital ecosystems that enable data sharing across supply ecosystems in privacy-preserving ways, Microsoft Copilot and data fabrics will supercharge the end-to-end manufacturing value chain.”

As manufacturers prepare to use generative AI, technology experts like Avanade have an important role to play in helping them prepare their data, understand key use cases, and deploy applications effectively. Doing so, manufacturing firms will be able to increase productivity and efficiency and put themselves in the best possible position to thrive.

Avanade is attending Hanover Messe 2024. Register here to meet with Avanade and discuss the potential of Microsoft Copilot in manufacturing.

You can also learn more about the use of Microsoft Copilot in manufacturing here.