Artificial Intelligence Punches In At The Factory

Concurrent engineering gets products to market faster: By tackling production engineering while a gizmo is being designed, companies can cut development cycles by up to 40%. Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology think automating the process can compound the savings. "Our goal is to reduce time to market another 50%," for a total of 70%, says Harold J. Raveche, president of the Hoboken (N.J.) college.

The key is artificial intelligence. Bankrolled with $25 million from industry and government, Stevens is developing "smart" software for designing both products and production methods. Called automated concurrent engineering (ACE), the concept could be a trump card for U.S. manufacturers. By the time an offshore rival copies a new design, Raveche says, "you'll be ready with the next generation," because the software helps engineers to stay focused on better manufacturability and avoid blind alleys. Lawrence A. Bossidy, chairman of AlliedSignal Inc., says ACE could help "reinvent manufacturing" in the U.S. ACE is being applied first to high-performance plastic products made by injection molding, such as aircraft parts.

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