AI and digitalisation for workforce training and assistance
Globalisation has increased the demand for customisation, with small product runs requiring agile supply chains. The adaptability demanded of workers is increasing, and established training methods are no longer sufficient. Digitalisation and AI could revolutionise how workers are trained, both on and off the job. Digitalisation itself has drastically lowered the investment in hardware necessary for on-the-job training, as powerful computers allow accurate interactive simulation of complex production processes. For example, human-in-the-loop simulation using virtual-reality headsets has lowered the hardware costs of digital training systems from thousands of dollars to a few hundred. The cost of augmented-reality systems and multimodal interfaces will also continue to decrease, while their performance in factory conditions continues to improve.
The key challenge to reaping the full benefits of digitally delivered training and assistance systems lies in the training material itself. Training courses require specialist knowledge, often from heterogeneous sources, and adaptation to context (worker experience, culture, existing skills, time available, characteristics of the manufacturing operation where training is required, etc.). Today, training material is largely developed manually, which is costly and time-consuming. AI has begun to provide solutions to this challenge. Chatbots and similar systems are now able to interact with workers using natural language, providing answers and context-specific help that often draw on multiple databases.
More significantly still, connected AI is set to tap into collective experience to improve training and cognitive assistance. Shared training databases can contain data on the cumulative experience of many workers undergoing training, as well as their subsequent performance, their responses in unexpected situations and other variables. If training systems are scaled up to serve communities of thousands of users, they will be enormously useful.