Process industry needs AI technologies if they are to take the next leap in productivity improvement. Finnish manufacturing industry has been employing AI technologies since the 1990s, but when will we see autonomous mills and plants in the process industry?
The process industry is often seen as the traditional industrial base keeping the national economy in balance. They provide jobs and the goods and supply energy for other segments of the economy. Process industry plants are always long-term investments and these are driving the large companies to continuously optimize the manufacturing processes.
AI increases quality of production
The ongoing digital transformation will bring new technologies to support the next productivity leap. Digitalization and the bioeconomy feature strongly on Finland’s national agenda, and the Finnish Government and Business Finland are further boosting this through well-focused strategy programmes. The Digital Fiber initiative is an example that brings all the stakeholders together to drive the process industry in question in the digital era.
By utilizing AI technologies in process industry we can increase stability in production and improve the quality of production outputs. AI technologies can be used to increase speed and output in production units. With AI technologies we can make more wood products from same amount of timber or reduce the amount of scrap in paper production by optimizing the process equipment by means of machine learning. From the output data, process automation systems can learn which controls and configurations result in the best performance.
Finnish ecosystems have potential to transform the market
Finnish manufacturing industry started to apply machine learning as far back as the 1990s, when the steel industry improved its processes. These solutions are widely used in today’s metals industry facilities around the world. The availability of annotated data and the combining of technological competence are of vital importance for successfully employing AI-supported solutions.
Today, industrial sectors are developing intelligent products with intelligent processes. The Finnish bioeconomy ecosystem is developing new value-adding products from forest-based materials in order to replace plastics and reduce fossil-fuel dependency in the world market. AI technologies will help to speed up the time-to-market of the new processes by using simulation and enabling predictive and learning systems.
Towards autonomous mills
The development of mobile phones to smart phones over the last ten years have been remarkable. Although a smart phone utilizes only a few sensors it is still providing us with many applications which helps our daily life. An industrial motor can have thousands of sensors to monitor their performance. The development of sensor data analytics is continuously improving the quality, availability and efficiency in these components.
Industrial processes will face huge changes in the coming years, when scalable and high-volume analytics for processes are enabled in cloud-computing architectures. Edge-computing capabilities create an opportunity to improve intelligence in the field. These advances are taking us to Industry 4.0. To reach the next level of productivity in the process industry we need first to enhance AI technologies, and then we can aim for autonomous mills and plants in the process industry.
The Finnish ecosystem, with its strong start-up scene, encourages companies to achieve world-class performance. A small economy can produce world-class solutions by co-creation in ecosystems. In Europe, we need to integrate our knowledge and capabilities to drive our business to this next level, and we cannot afford not to do so.