I first read about & "smart advisors" in a report
published by industry analyst Gartner. The
idea aligns well with our own thoughts that
decision making will shift away from people
to virtual assistants. Already prevalent in the
banking and services industry, virtual assistants
advise us on a wide variety of choices
such as what loan to take out or which local
restaurant to choose.
When we think about smart advisors in
manufacturing we can imagine them recommending
maintenance work, changes in process
parameters or schedule changes. With a
smart advisor we do not fully trust the virtual
assistant to make a decision. We believe that
it’s not yet intelligent enough to fully replicate
human decision making. Why is this? Actually
our mistrust is well founded. Anyone who has
worked in plant knows that the theory and
practice of data collection are not the same. If
we want to automate decision making then we
must be sure that data is accurate. Any of the
thousands of sensors could be giving us inaccurate
data, a communication channel might
fail or communication might be delayed.
There are a myriad of opportunities for failure.
Even so, with smart manufacturing we
should be able to overcome these problems.
Systems are becoming increasingly intelligent,
especially when programmers take account of
potential points of failure. Smart manufacturing
needs smart programmers, the so called
super engineers who truly understand virtual
and physical manufacturing. In Industry 4.0,
people provide the intelligence to autonomous
systems, those people have to be really smart.
The smart advisor is programmed by a super
engineer, it will be iterative and be constantly
improved with experience and knowledge.
I think smart advisors are a perfect starting
point for the journey into smart manufacturing
and Industry 4.0. Eventually we expect to
see the plant fully autonomous and self-organising.
Smart advisors can be programmed for
specific tasks, once we are confident they can
make good decisions all or most of the time
then we could approve them for autonomous
operations. Many autonomous agents, working
together, will become the building bricks
of autonomous manufacturing.
The Manufacturing Operations Management Institute (MOMi) runs a number of events for Manufacturers to provide a platform to discuss actions. More information and registration for Smart Manufacturing and Industry 4.0 workshops can be found at
is the chairman and CTO of ATS International
This article was first published in the Spring 2016 issue