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Innovations in Manufacturing and Agriculture Keep Our Daily Lives Going

The manufacturing industry has a robust collection of innovation enablers, from strategy consultants to organizations that develop solutions to common problems.

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This week, I’m continuing this series on change, innovation and invention involving the use of IT by focusing on the manufacturing and agriculture industries. These are two industries are very different. However, they both result in outputs that are very important to us.
I’m writing this article from a warm home that’s heated by a product manufactured to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with little intervention. Last night, I ate a scratch-made soup made from more than a dozen ingredients that were grown locally and abroad. Just these two examples, one manufactured and the other produced from plants and animals, demonstrate what a remarkable time we live in, with our daily lives enabled by manufacturing and agriculture.  

Manufacturing Is Supported With Innovation

The manufacturing industry has a robust collection of innovation enablers, from strategy consultants to organizations that develop solutions to common problems. At a recent Manufacturer’s Director’s Forum, co-hosted with IBM and SAP, the organization brought together a dozen manufacturing executives representing a broad cross-section of sectors. There were four major ideas discussed involving change, innovation and invention.
1. Understanding market demand focused on the challenges many businesses face in understanding, interpreting and reacting to rapidly shifting market needs. With today’s ubiquity of technology and data, it’s far easier to assess why and how customers are using a certain product. However, many organizations are still unsure how to best comprehend and put to use this flood of information and use the resulting insights to make quicker, more thoughtful decisions.  
2. Increased agility making use of available data was identified to be more vital than ever to short-term survival, long-term growth and unlocking new revenue streams. Daniel Hatfield, partner and industry leader for automotive, aerospace and defense at IBM, remarked, “Increasingly, your survival will hinge on your ability to respond to change.”
3. Standardization versus technology was the subject of vigorous debate as many attendees commented that digital transformation provided the agility that businesses increasingly require while others said that standardization was more significant to help achieve the necessary agility.
4. Artificial intelligence was a focus as it promises to be the next breakthrough in productivity improvement. It was seen as a follow-up to the advent of lean, automation and advanced IT.

Additional Support

This forum is but one example of how manufacturers and industry leaders get together to discuss common problems and solutions. There are other ways that innovation in manufacturing is supported.
IBM works with clients, industry partners and consultants to focus on solution areas like supply chain optimization, improved operations and worker safety. By working with frameworks like Industry 4.0, IBM helps clients make decisions faster and find unseen opportunities in their data to drive greater operational efficiency. Because IBM is a technology provider, its impact is amplified through the use of its manufacturing-enabled products including its IBM security and public cloud solutions. IBM Watson is also able to anticipate demand, pinpoint quality issues and increase equipment uptime through predictive maintenance. IBM also provides leadership with Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to identify potential machine problems, prevent downtime and increase quality and yield. 

Agriculture Is Experiencing Surprising Innovation

Innovation in agriculture is no less dynamic than what’s occurring in manufacturing. By 2024, the Earth's population is estimated to total more than 8 billion. This increased population will add new stresses on the global supply chain, which is already challenged by an unpredictable climate and water supply shortages. Alison DeNisco Rayome writes in TechRepublic that in order to meet future food demands, IBM researchers are working on solutions that tap AI, IoT and cloud-connected devices at every step of the food supply chain.
DeNisco Rayome makes five predictions for the future of farming, based on projects IBM is working on.
1. Digital twins of all farmland and farming activity will be widely available, allowing all interested groups to share resources and increase crop yields at a lower environmental cost.
2. Adding blockchain into the food supply chain will help eliminate costly unknowns in the process.
3. Microbiome mapping will make it possible for food safety inspectors to use millions of microbes to protect the food supply.
4. AI for detecting food contaminants will make it possible for everyone from farmers to home cooks to be able to detect dangerous contaminants in their food using a cellphone or countertop equipped with AI sensors.
5. Recycling, trash disposal and the creation of new plastics will be substantially different by 2024 as milk cartons, cookie containers, grocery bags and cheese cloths will be recyclable.

New Tools for Farmers

I had an opportunity to review an agriculture solution where IBM Watson and The Weather Company worked with teams from IBM Research-Brazil and IBM Research-India to design and build a suite of agribusiness tools and solutions. This solution helps the agriculture industry use AI to make more informed decisions about their crops. This solution is called the Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture.
Underpinning the platform is IBM PAIRS GEOSCOPE, which is used to process some of the satellite data. It also serves to store the data. By aggregating and analyzing terabytes of multilayer geospatial data, PAIRS allows the solution to store and run queries on the geo-referenced data. Here is a summary of four of the APIs included in this solution from IBM.
1. Yield History and Forecast for Corn
This API uses big data and machine learning to predict yield for corn crops two to three months in advance with only a limited amount of data and computing power.  
2. Disease & Pest Indicators for Corn
This API service predicts the risks in corn production, leveraging hyper-local weather forecast details (temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, etc.) from The Weather Company and crop specific inputs (sowing date, growth stage, etc.) to model the probability of various pests and diseases occurring.  
3. High Definition Normalized Difference Vegetation Index for Crop Health Monitoring
Using geospatial and satellite data, this API identifies crop type and crop growth stage at a high resolution. This is useful to assess crop health, determine fertilizer, pesticide and irrigation schedules, validate crop insurance clams, predict yield, and reduce risk in commodity trading.
4. High Definition Soil Moisture  
This API is a high resolution, real-time measurement tool that monitors soil moisture at multiple depths using a combination of AI algorithms and physical models along with several satellite and weather model data sets.  
This project, which resulted in Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, is just one of many instances where IBM Research is helping to transform the agriculture industry. 

Next Week  

Next week, I’ll continue with this series on innovation and IT by exploring mining and education.  
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