Three extraordinary examples of digital technology in action

Today, businesses apply many varieties of digital technologies to overhaul organizational processes. These technologies range from simple data management platforms to complex artificial intelligence (AI) complemented by machine learning.

The applications of these technologies are many and varied. This article examines three unique examples of digital technology being applied to optimize processes.

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Apply AI to win a major sporting event

June 17, 2021 saw the start of the America’s Cup, a sailing competition that offers the oldest international sporting trophy in the world. 36e edition of this event featured a key difference from all previous editions, as a new element was at stake. Defending champion Emirates Team New Zealand had added a new crew member: an AI robot developed by McKinsey.

The team had previously used a simulation program to test boat designs without ever having to build them, maximizing their ability to optimize this process before competition. The simulation required a human operator who could only test one boat design at a time, severely limiting the number that could be tested due to the sailors’ busy schedules.

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The AI ​​bot has the ability to run thousands of simulations at once, bringing process efficiency to an unprecedented level. The bot was even trained to test boats like a professional sailor would using a relatively new approach called deep reinforcement learning, a derivative of machine learning.

The bot eventually became so adept that the team was even learning new maneuvers from it, meaning the bot is essentially a trailblazer in the world of sailing. The result was a craft that was designed from bow to stern with efficiency and performance in mind, a crew trained with the power of AI, and victory for Emirates Team New Zealand.

Steel overheating with data

In the production of steel, it is necessary to “superheat” the metal to a specific temperature before casting it. If the steel is overheated or underheated it will not be viable for casting and with an optimum temperature range of only 15 degrees Celsius it can be very difficult to get it right.

Tata Steel’s plant in Kalinganagar, India, successfully completed the process two out of three times when it was entirely based on worker experience. Managers saw an opportunity to improve this process and, therefore, increase profits. A centralized data platform was set up with advanced sensors to inform about the process.

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Initially, the production model developed through the new data platform, aimed at maximizing operational visibility, promised a success rate of 75%, which was an improvement. Employees received extensive training in various areas of data analytics to enhance their capabilities with the new platform that gathers and analyzes plant data prior to deployment.

Once operational, the platform provided recommendations to workers to improve their success rate of the overheating process. Initially, there were some problems due to the variety of customer orders, which meant that the operators rejected the platform’s recommendations. The new data collected as well as additional staff training enabled them to further develop the approach.

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The result was a model that predicted a 90% accuracy rate for the process, with employees now accepting 85% of the model’s recommendations. This has resulted in annual cost savings of US$4 million and the plant has been recognized by the World Economic Forum for its digital capabilities.

Increase profits by 20% with the Internet of Things (IoT)

In 2013, E.ON Climate and Renewables (EC&R) North America was operating with a 30% deviation margin from planned energy production. The company also calculated a 10% annual revenue loss due to an overestimation of wind conditions, both of which were extremely unfavorable.

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In an attempt to improve these statistics, EC&R has implemented a platform that uses the IoT to analyze tens of thousands of data points on a wind farm every second. The platform connects data from an array of sensors that report on everything from operational and configuration data to mechanical load analyzes and energy prediction.

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The enhanced real-time visibility offered by the platform has enabled huge optimizations in energy production. In the first year alone, EC&R reported a 4% increase in annual energy production. In 2016, after installing the IoT in more than 1,400 wind turbines, the company recorded a 20% increase in annual profits.

Has your company developed an innovative digital application? Let us know in the comments below.

About Shirley L. Kreger

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