Use of AI
Robot hand turns on-button for Industry 4.0

Where Austria's industry stands in the AI competition

Austria has a strong industry. But what about the use of AI in Austrian industry? We take stock of the current state of industrial AI. Plus: We bring thought leaders in AI before the curtain.
Table of contents: Where Austria's industry stands in the AI competition

The Chatbot technology from Microsoft has changed the perception of artificial intelligence at breathtaking speed. ChatGPT actually achieved something remarkable: the previously separate fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI) speech, image and text were united. The technology, based on Transformer methods, showed the world in one fell swoop just how powerful AI already is.

The manufacturing industry in Austria has long since integrated the use of artificial intelligence (AI) into everyday work. From intelligent robots in production to automation applications and data-driven analyses - the use of AI also opens up a wide range of opportunities in the industrial environment to optimize cognitive work activities and processes. According to a Study by Fraunhofer Austria from the year 2022, AI applications are already in one in ten companies in operational use. However, the study also shows that there is a big difference between SMEs and larger companies. The gap is particularly wide when it comes to implementing AI applications. Only one in four companies has taken AI applications beyond the pilot phase.

As the largest Challenge According to Fraunhofer Austria, companies see the lack of competence among employees as a major obstacle. The goal must therefore be to communicate concrete use cases and targeted knowledge transfer regarding the sensible use of AI in the corporate context.

Credit: AT&S | Gottfried Egger, Head of Corporate IT, can imagine production steps being partially or fully controlled and optimized by AI.

Concrete strategy for the practical use of AI in Austria is still missing

The positive side: Many Austrian industrial companies are facing up to this new competition. In Fraunhofer's study, the participants indicated that they would embrace AI primarily in the areas of Services and services for customers, IT and research and development.

However, 55 percent of the companies surveyed by Fraunhofer currently still have No concrete strategy for the use of artificial intelligence. To get a feel for the manifold possibilities of the new technology, we bring some pioneers of Industrial AI before the curtain here.

Playful approach to AI at AT&S

AT&S (Austria Technologie & Systemtechnik AG) is an Austrian company specializing in the production of printed circuit boards and IC substrates. In this key industry, AT&S is one of the global market leaders, also in terms of the use of AI. In some factories, an algorithm based on Boolean algebra optimizes the placement in production lines. AT&S also already uses AI-based simulations.

Gottfried Egger, head of corporate IT, can imagine production steps being partially or fully controlled and optimized by AI. Self-learning systems based on neural networks could design new architectures. According to Egger, this represents a decisive turning point for the business model of the technology company from Leoben and promotes its further development.

Egger believes that the repeatable process step will "no longer remain a unique selling point" for the Styrians. Instead, it will become a basic prerequisite for AI-optimized developments. These are already on the horizon. Smaller and more powerful systems will make thermoregulation of substrates increasingly important. Therefore, in order to harmonize production across the board, the focus is already on data standardization. Egger says they are taking a "hands-off" approach to AI development.

Credit: AT&S | Gottfried Egger, Head of Corporate IT, can imagine production steps being partially or fully controlled and optimized by AI.

AI speaks dialect

A particularly mean task for ChatGPT has become Manager Manuel Krammer by Flex for testing purposes. At the company, which offers electronic manufacturing services in Althofen, Carinthia, the tasks for the AI were formulated in traditional Carinthian dialect. "But the program didn't let that upset it," Krammer reports with amusement.

At Flex in Althofen, Transformer technology is being used on a trial basis in various areas. Examples of AI use are ghostwriting and smaller software projects, where the technology is already providing an initial reduction in workload.

AI can also be helpful in finding replacements for electronic components at the end of the product life cycle. "After we entered the specifications, the AI successfully identified a successor technology in a test," Krammer explains.

The Carinthians are already using AI-protected processes in a special area - the repair process of manufactured electronic components. These perform an optical inspection taking historical data into account.

Credit: Flex | Flex manager Manuel Krammer is already using Transformer technology on a trial basis in various areas.

AI as the next phase of process automation

The aluminum group Amag is already "evolutionarily" relying on AI as the next phase of process automation. In the production of rolled products, mainly for the aerospace and automotive industries, the company carries out the testing of around 230,000 material samples annually with the support of AI.

The Upper Austrians have invested ten million euros in fully automated specimen production and testing, which comes at the end of a rolling product throughput time of up to 16 weeks. With the help of machine learning algorithms, the testing facilities plan and optimize their specimen production processes for tensile or corrosion tests virtually independently and around the clock.

According to CEO Gerald Mayer an important step for several reasons: On the one hand, aviation, the top class, demonstrably requires almost 100 percent quality of delivery. On the other hand, the CEO is aware of the difficulty of motivating employees to work shifts on weekends, especially since the labor market is pretty much exhausted.

Credit: Amag | The CEO of Amag, Gerald Mayer, has the testing of the approximately 230,000 material samples per year carried out with the support of AI.

AI use in industry: All that glitters is far from gold

Overall, however, many companies in Austria looking for funding to invest in artificial intelligence still find it difficult to secure funding. A study of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), an instrument for classifying qualifications in the Austrian education system, shows that many SMEs in Austria, especially in the area of manufacturing, have not yet really recognized the benefits of artificial intelligence. The argument often cited is that the technology is still too expensive and difficult to implement.

Nevertheless, according to a report by the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, Austrian industry will already have around 37 million euros in AI investments have been made. Also according to the Fraunhofer study, almost all companies with more than 2,000 employees rely on the use of artificial intelligence, with applications at least in the testing phase; about one-third of these larger companies are already using AI applications in an operational environment. These numbers show: Austria's industry has recognized that AI is an important factor in remaining competitive.

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