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We’ve been through a lot in the last few years, like COVID, inflation, natural disasters, war and more. All of them have had an impact on the global economy.

Combine that with the surge in consumer demand, shortage of labor and supply chain issues. And it’s easy to understand that manufacturing enterprises continue see the challenges even to this day, in 2023, said Shilpa Prasad, director of new ventures at LG, in a session at the Transform 2023 event this week.

In a fireside chat with Sokwoo Rhee, corporate senior vice president of innovation at LG Electronics and head of the LG NOVA incubator, Prasad addressed the challenge of using new technologies and converting them into opportunities to change the way we work in our daily lives.

LG NOVA is a North American innovation arm for LG Electronics, which sells 20 million devices a year of all kinds. And overall, LG is a $70 billion manufacturer, one of the largest in the world, with 128 factories and 85,000 people working at them. Those factories already have robotics and automation, and the company is evaluating how artificial intelligence can further help it.

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While the company has to look at products and processes in these factories, it also has to put the people in the workforce and those it is hiring front and center, Prasad said.

“We’re constantly looking at how technology can play an important role in addressing this and particularly how we can apply generative AI,” she said.

In 2017, LG Electronics introduced the Q platform, which uses computer vision and AI to detect defects in products. It helps the company meet its key performance indicators on production, including at a factory in Clarksville, Tennessee. Robots can handle a lot of automated tasks efficiently on the assembly line. And LG continues to leverage AI for operations to be more efficient and to test decisions at each step of the way, Rhee said.

Sokwoo Rhee is corporate senior vice president of innovation at LG Electronics and head of the LG NOVA incubator.

“That itself is a huge value for a company like ours,” he said.

Whether it’s in the factories or the LG NOVA incubator, the company has to work with all stakeholders, including startups, investors and large corporate partners. The goal is not to lock up the expertise available via AI in a server somewhere. It is to make use of it where it’s needed.

“Day in and day out, we’re looking for new technologies and trying to explore this area, not just manufacturing but the factory floor,” Prasad said. “Whether it be sustainability, whether it be worker assist, or product design, or just processing factory analytics, there’s just so much out there that generative AI can be applied to and all of that is in the offing.”

She added, “We’re all seeing this surge of the technology and the application of the technology. I wish I had some ways I could demonstrate success to the audience today. I think we’re a little too early for that, from a trending perspective.”

When it comes to the workforce, being able to do more is tough. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 10,000 people are reaching the age of 65 every day. The baby boomers are heading toward retirement, and by 2030, all baby boomers will have reached 65. That’s going to create a gap in the workforce, especially on the factory floor, as people who have skills will retire. How will the new workforce learn how to carry on the tasks?

“The workplace itself is a new generation,” Prasad said. “They’re GenZers. They’re expecting new technology to actually help address this gap rather than doing things the old, which was standing next to each other and learning this new skill.”

You have to take exponential technologies like generative AI and combine them with augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality technologies to make the training more intuitive. Prasad asked Rhee how to address this challenge.

“This is actually a great question. So in addition to everything we just mentioned, the world is changing faster than ever before. So it’s almost like the pace of change in the industry and technology is accelerating exponentially every year,” Rhee said. “So what that means is from the workforce perspective, sometimes they have to adapt faster, or even switch their skill sets much quicker than before.”

LG has 85,000 workers in 128 factories.

It’s clear that the manufacturing from 50 years ago, where people used one set of skills and used them until retirement, probably isn’t going to happen anymore. Companies have to consider the role of tech, AI, and retraining of the workforce. Governments have to get involved, as do big and small companies.

There will be issues around that. There will be huge markets and it’s going to impact the quality of life for a lot of people. Those are things that have to be considered, Rhee said.

Prasad said that conversations with factory workers shows that people want to spend more time with family and do the things they really enjoy. They want to be engaged with enterprises as they figure out the future of manufacturing. It’s going to be a long-term process.

In the short term, Prasad believes generative AI will likely be useful in data transfer in the interaction between machines and humans, as well as in providing cybersecurity for factories.

“There is a trade-off between the more open data, more access to data, versus cybersecurity and privacy issues,” she said. “This is going to be an ongoing issue and is going to get more and more important. And I cannot stress that enough.”

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