AI and ML: What’s Really Happening in the SMB Manufacturing Space?

AI and ML: What’s Really Happening in the SMB Manufacturing Space?

This is not another article on how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are transforming manufacturing. Day after day, your inbox and media feed are probably full of them. As is the case with many trending stories, it’s hard to tell what’s actually happening versus what’s expected to happen. I’m hoping this article provides a little perspective so Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) in the manufacturing space can stop feeling like they’re the only kids on the block without the latest I-phone.

Don’t get me wrong. The transformative capabilities and potential uses of AI and ML in the manufacturing space can’t be over-stated. AI/ML should absolutely be an ongoing strategic consideration for all manufacturing business leaders.

In January, the World Economic Forum’s article “6 ways to unleash the power of AI in manufacturing”  acknowledged: “The global AI in manufacturing market is valued at $3.2 billion in 2023 and is poised to grow to $20.8 billion by 2028. Yet, despite these possibilities and significant investments, manufacturers are not harnessing the full potential of AI.”

This sentiment was echoed in a recent blog article published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. While discussing AI as the industry’s key to future growth and profitability, the article acknowledges, “The uptick in usage has continued to be slow as well as uneven.” (Cecere, Cathy. March 6, 2024. “Manufacturing in 2024 Means Embracing AI.”

After doing some research, I found this undercurrent of discussion about actual AI/ML use is starting to make its way into the media mainstream. It appears that while the biggest businesses and companies developing AI solutions are making the most progress and largest investments in AI/ML applications, SMBs in manufacturing should not just consider closing shop because they don’t have the knowledge, finances, or ability to make big leaps into the AI/ML arena right now.

It’s hard to tell what percentage of manufacturing companies – especially SMBs – are actually deploying AI/ML solutions today. Survey results from different sources run the gamut, indicating less than 4% of businesses are using AI/ML to produce goods and services to stating more than half of SMBs are playing in the AI/ML arena. One survey shows about 30% of large companies are using AI/ML and another shows less than 20% of global manufacturing companies use AI/ML on the plant floor.

Rather than trying to keep up with the Joneses, it feels like a good time to level set what manufacturing SMBs can actually do with AI/ML today and how to plan for the future. At this point, staying knowledgeable about what’s available, what’s coming, and use cases is vital.

Consider how AI/ML can address pain points in your business. Begin seeing how free AI apps can help you with a variety of everyday tasks, from marketing to scheduling, tracking receipts for expense reporting, and more. And, if you can, take advantage of AI enhancements to your current systems, equipment, and operations, explore where it makes the most sense.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has some information about small business use of AI. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) points out that, among other things, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership offers resources to “help you understand what technologies exist and if they are a good fit for your business,” with experts available to help you “establish an adoption strategy, scope the project, align suppliers with vetted resources and manage implementation to ensure your business goals and customer needs are met.” To learn about the NY MEP, click here.

As you’re considering how AI/ML will impact your business in the future, please remember RBT CPAs is  available to meet all of your accounting, tax, audit, and advisory needs. We’ve been proudly serving municipalities, businesses, non-profits, and individuals in the Hudson Valley for over 50 years. Please don’t hesitate to give us a call and find out how we can be Remarkably Better Together.


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