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AI adoption crawling among manufacturers, new report finds

Dec. 11, 2023
Latest Sikich Industry Pulse results, from canvassing in August, also show weak buy-in for AI as relief for the U.S. manufacturing workforce deficit, with only 7% surveyed saying they are addressing open roles so far with help from the technology.

Advancements in generative AI have attracted attention across industries, but the manufacturing industry has so far been slow to adopt AI technologies, according to a new industry report.

The latest Sikich Industry Pulse, released Dec. 11, found that one-fifth of manufacturing executives have no plans to incorporate AI into their operations, and more than 60% of execs are unsure if AI will add any benefit to their companies or have researched AI but have not found an appropriate use case. Less than 20% of manufacturers have begun to implement AI technologies in their operations, the study found.

At the same time, manufacturers are still struggling to attract and retain labor—a workforce deficit that AI is intended to combat. Of executives surveyed in the Sikich survey who said they are not optimistic about business prospects over the next six months, 45% cited labor shortages and 43% cited increasing labor costs as concerns. Both labor shortages and labor costs were more frequently listed as concerns of respondents compared to Sikich’s previous Industry Pulse report, which was released in June.

See also: Powering cognitive digital threads with Gen-AI to accelerate innovation

Only 7% of the manufacturing executives surveyed are actively looking into or have already filled open roles with AI technology. While adoption of AI technologies is low, nearly a quarter of manufacturers (24%) are interested in using AI to supplement the workforce.

“Faced with recruitment and retention challenges, manufacturers have a unique opportunity to improve efficiencies and automate back-office functions with technologies like AI,” said Jerry Murphy, partner-in-charge of manufacturing and distribution services at Sikich, which offers technology, accounting, audit, and tax consulting services to industrial and other clients.

Murphy added: “AI is a lot more than ChatGPT, and when deployed properly, AI tools can help manufacturers reduce costs, generate demand, improve customer relations, and more quickly bring products to market. It’s important that manufacturers proceed thoughtfully though, assessing the risks and challenges associated with AI alongside its exciting potential.”

Cybersecurity an unexpected challenge

Just as manufacturers are slow to adopt AI technologies, most also have a limited security infrastructure, despite the cybersecurity cautionary tales of Clorox and Boeing in 2023. While manufacturing executives are confident in their cybersecurity preparedness—ranking their confidence a seven on a scale of one to 10—cyberattacks are still prevalent in the industry. More than one third (34%) of respondents experienced a cyberattack in the past five years.

See also: Cybersecurity in the spotlight: What recent attacks show about industry vulnerabilities, defenses

Cybersecurity preparedness involves putting several measures in place to prevent attacks, including system controls, network controls, employee training, and more. Yet 58% of survey respondents only have three or fewer cybersecurity measures in place.

“Manufacturers are a prime target for hackers and vulnerable to ransomware in particular because of their need to avoid factory shutdowns,” said Thomas Freeman, a director in Sikich’s cybersecurity practice.

“Hackers have many ways they can break into a company’s systems—from phishing scams to DNS attacks. A thorough defense that includes firewalls, regular security audits, penetration testing, security training and threat intelligence is necessary to thwart attacks and protect company data.”

See also: Process shortcomings a high hurdle for phasing in AI, survey finds

The Industry Pulse survey also collected benchmark data on manufacturing executives’ industry optimism, technology system implementations, and companies’ transition to the cloud, according to a release from Sikich, which surveys manufacturers and distributors multiple times throughout the year on a range of business topics to create industry benchmark data.

In August, Sikich surveyed more than 100 executives from manufacturing and distribution companies across sectors including industrial equipment, wholesale and distribution, metal fabrication, food and beverage, apparel, footwear and textiles, and transportation.

About the Author

Scott Achelpohl

I've come to Smart Industry after stints in business-to-business journalism covering U.S. trucking and transportation for FleetOwner, a sister website and magazine of SI’s at Endeavor Business Media, and branches of the U.S. military for Navy League of the United States. I'm a graduate of the University of Kansas and the William Allen White School of Journalism with many years of media experience inside and outside B2B journalism. I'm a wordsmith by nature, and I edit Smart Industry and report and write all kinds of news and interactive media on the digital transformation of manufacturing.