When you ask what Bright Machine’s SVP, Abhishek Pani’s has been “up to” in the pandemic – his answer is big and useful. Having built and led a 100+ person team of AI/ML Scientists, Product Managers, and Data and Software Engineers at Adobe, Abhishek and his team created a new class of AI-driven products for the company’s enterprise customers in analytics, experimentation, visual content understanding, experience optimization and optimal planning
Specific, while moving things along – I guess you could say our quick conversation with Abhishek was like a well-oiled machine.
M.R. Rangaswami: How has COVID-19 changed the way manufacturers look at the use of advanced technology?
Abhishek Pani: As is the case for so many, manufacturers have had a tough year – in fact, 9 out of 10 manufacturers are feeling the impact of COVID-19 according to Thomas Insights. Between factory closures, need to move production closer to demand, social distancing requirements and volatility in demand for products, the pandemic is reminding manufacturers of the industry’s inherent fragility, and the need to consider technical solutions geared toward making their entire supply chain more resilient. Risk mitigation for current and future outlier events is front and center for every manufacturer.
At Bright Machines, we are seeing that realization played out in conversations with customers every day. The elements of traditional factories – which are reliant on humans for assembly operations or highly customized, hardware-centric automation solutions designed with assumptions of inherent low variability – are no longer keeping pace with the constantly changing global landscape.
Increasingly, manufacturers understand that in order to navigate these types of disruptions they must adopt new software and machine learning based technology solutions – like cloud infrastructure and services, high-dimensional process and machine data, computer vision – aimed at future proofing factories for whatever may come next. This future proofing would give manufacturers the ability to move manufacturing locations while causing as little disruption both in terms of ramp-up time as well as quality, be resilient to changes in supply chains due to changes in suppliers, ability to manage production facilities in a virtual setting and have humans and robots work together in a way that adheres to constraints determined by location specific social distancing norms.
It is no wonder that recent projections expect the advanced robotics segment with manufacturing to grow rapidly in the coming years.
M.R.: What solutions have helped manufacturers gain more resiliency through economic disruptions?
Abhishek: We believe the solution lies in the automation. The traditional approach to automation hadn’t truly been tested until this global outbreak, but it marks a critical turning point for the industry to embrace new ways of achieving resilient and flexible automation.
For decades, companies have tackled automation in manufacturing with hardware first, tying in software secondarily. This results in big, expensive machines and robots that require a large physical footprint not to mention months to install and configure. This type of automation is also highly customized, and therefore can only be used toward a single product. In a world with changing demands and unexpected shifts, this approach to automation provides limited value.
Technology advances in software, computer vision, machine learning, and adaptive robotics hold the ticket to changing the flexibility, scalability, resilience, and economics of a multi-trillion dollar industry. Software, in particular, has been fundamental to this shift, as it digitizes and simplifies factory automation – enabling remote management and operation, faster automation deployment, seamless product pivots, and localized production.
Fortunately for our clients, our software stack makes it much easier for automation teams to setup and program the assembly lines using a low/ no code environment. This means we’re able to help reduce deployment time and changeover duration while making it easy to replicate assembly lines across the globe. This is particularly useful for manufactures feeling the pressures due to COVID.
M.R.: By your estimation, what is manufacturing going to look like beyond the pandemic?
Abhishek: I believe we’ll see a shift away from the globalization that’s dominated the last 30+ years of manufacturing, to more localized and flexible factories building closer to where customers are located, assuming the supply chains are re-architected to support this distributed form of manufacturing.
Distributed networks of smaller, more nimble factories will come to replace centralized factories located halfway around the world. Not only is this a more sustainable approach because of a smaller carbon footprint, but prompts manufacturers to respond quickly to changing customer demands, lower our reliance on human labor, and foster greater product innovation.
Fortunately, when the next big disruption inevitably comes, manufacturers will be ready and able to respond to changing needs in the market, because the technology now exists to make this vision real.
M.R. Rangaswami is the Co-Founder of SandHill.com