Artificial intelligence in day-to-day engineering

AI still has little value in day-to-day engineering. A VDI survey revealed an incredible discrepancy between expectations and reality.

Engineers today come into contact with artificial intelligence at almost every point in their day-to-day working lives, or so it is thought. Autonomous driving, Industry 4.0 and even classic mechanical engineering or medical technology—AI seems to be part of everyday life.

The “Artificial intelligence in day-to-day engineering—expectations and reality” status report from the VDI paints a different picture. Compared to the results of a 2018 survey, expectations for AI use have not materialized. The coronavirus crisis with its significant challenges certainly distracted attention from other issues over the past two years. Even so, it would have been expected that the digitalization resulting from the pandemic would also have triggered a push for AI methods and applications. But this was not the case. In actual fact, artificial intelligence has little value in day-to-day engineering at the moment.

Even in the media, AI is now only mentioned sporadically although it was frequently reported on in 2018 and 2019. The VDI study observed a similar trend within companies. Just slightly more than a third of those surveyed said that their own company offers AI-based products or services.

And if AI is used, then it is used primarily for data analysis followed by predictive maintenance, quality management and assistance systems. As in 2018, automated driving offers the greatest potential away from industrial production. This is followed by assistance robots, diagnostics and traffic applications.

SMEs lag behind big companies

The size of the company also influences the assessment given by the study participants, in some cases quite significantly. For example, 29.5 percent of respondents from big companies said they already offer hardware products with AI modules. With SMEs, this figure is just 1.8 percent. By 2027, this figure is expected to have risen to 18.5 percent. The same applies to AI-based services. The study revealed that SMEs have barely invested in AI to date but would like to invest much more in the next five years.

Companies that already use AI regard the lack of basic data followed by the work involved and the lack of know-how as the biggest obstacles. Surprisingly, the costs play a fairly minor role. At “AI-free” companies, the lack of knowledge tops the list of shortcomings.

At the same time, the number of people who have acquired a knowledge of AI during their studies is growing. Most universities offer lectures on the subject, especially in IT faculties, and interest in them is growing.

Those surveyed by the VDI believe that engineers play an important role when it comes to AI. After all, they are usually responsible for the link between technical systems and the actual process. However, engineering and IT can only solve the forthcoming application challenges together.