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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is starting to make dramatic changes in many industries. Let me just correct that statement if you listen to the media, it has already made revolutionary changes to many industries – a more realistic view  Gartner – New Era.  However, my view from the sidelines is that we are in the kindergarten of AI @Work and even the boundaries of the playground are not fully in place.  So, this is an exciting time to play and develop one's skills in using the free AI Tools.  They will soon have to be paid for I think – An article recently said it cost $700,000 to keep ChatGPT running.  AI will be part of our toolset as engineers and communicators into the future.  Let us take time to use it.

Writers Bias Note:  I prefer AI as the term Augmented Intelligence, and I also feel that Intelligent beings don't run on batteries. I think intelligence is biological rather than digital!  After describing my bias, I am still positive about embracing technology, let me explain!

My thoughts based on discussions and listening to conference key notes are the most forward-thinking companies will lever AI for new and innovative methods, tools, techniques to create a unique manufacturing advantage.  It’s not just about automating tasks but also about innovating the production environment to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve product quality. In a recent Gartner presentation, they suggested that all companies should be investigating AI, but most would stick to the automation of admin or routine tasks – The leaders, however, will look at how it can reshape or improve every aspect of work. 

The Role of AI in Production

Primary Role - Data assimilation, processing and insights

AI can analyse vast amounts of data from various sources in real-time, enabling manufacturers to detect anomalies, predict machine failures, and optimize processes. This leads to reduced downtime, increased productivity, and significant cost savings. The key characteristics that one needs to understand of manufacturing data are the 5 Vs of data: volume variety velocity veracity and value. Understanding the data context and analysis for possible causation and correlation of data sets is key to proving your process signatures and looking for innovative insights!

AI SuperPowers

The places where the AI superpowers can aid operations is using the basic abilities to assimilate and manage large volumes of data and create "Compelling Insights".  The ability to dynamically build views not just of the past but of "likely future” - The concept of digital twins. An opportunity to augment tribal knowledge and help people have their finger on the pulse of the big picture and their operation. The usual work areas below are targets for improved awareness using AI to supply insights. Understanding the dynamics of the business and the operational context with engaged well trained and supported shopfloor teams can create the environment for productivity and creativity to enable continuous improvement.


Predictive Maintenance

Quality Control

Empowered People Strategist & Catalyst (HR)

Supply Chain Optimization

Democratising Information and knowledge

We now have access to these Large Language Models that can provide us with terabytes of information across a broad spectrum of business, science, technology and innovation. However, to create the quantum leap to real innovation it is taking these elements in a creative way to help "dream" or imagine a better way.

 I believe that the AI can help broaden our knowledge, inspire us across operational silos to be part of a more creative process of Innovating.  We will need to collaborate with AI in new ways in a people centred environment to inspire and create the possibilities.


The innovation with AI in a production environment offers many benefits. It’s an exciting time for the manufacturing industry as we continue to explore and realize the potential of AI. Manufacturers who embrace AI will undoubtedly be at the forefront of their industry.  The international regulations are being proposed and enacted as we speak – It is important that business leaders stay well informed, promote responsible, value centred leadership when there is a tectonic shift in the use of technology.  We must not forget that our People are the Sizzle to our Business, they must be central. The challenge is to develop a culture to support them in this new digital framework.

Engineers are known for their thinking and problem-solving skills. Now with the help of AI we can broaden our sphere of influence and enhance our ability to create solutions for manufacturing. However, to do this will take practice in collaborative groups on a regular basis.  Start the process now!

Do you want to know more about the aspects of people, process, leadership and technology in manufacturing in South Africa today?

Join us for our MESA Africa International Summit 2023 at the Kloofzicht Lodge on 15 –16 November. A wonderful opportunity to hear important discussions on our manufacturing Industry and international thought leadership.  Gain insights from innovative case studies and ideas in action as well as quality time to network with some of our movers and shakers in our industry.

See you there!

Please let me know what's happening in your world with AI and how you are using it as a tool for AI-nnovation. 

Nick Stead – Process Metallurgist – Digital Immigrant 

Email me at nick@steadpower.com