Throughout the pandemic, “supply chain woes” have been blamed for everything from empty store shelves and skyrocketing consumer prices to a more recent surplus in inventory at big-box stores. All of this has many experts unsure about how to characterize the current state of the U.S. economy

While there are many factors contributing to this economic uncertainty, one of the most acute sources of pain for United States manufacturers has been a shortage of semiconductors. These chips, which play a pivotal role in powering everything from healthcare technology to cars, have been in short supply due to conflicting forces of supply and demand. 

For starters, the majority of semiconductors used in consumer goods are produced overseas—especially in China—where factory shutdowns during COVID-19’s earliest days essentially paused chip manufacturing for months. 

While this caused some immediate pain at the start of the pandemic, it was understood that these slowdowns would have a long-term impact. These ripple effects are still felt across global markets today: Just this month, North American automakers cut production of 100,000 vehicles because of a lack of semiconductors.

Enter the Chips and Science Act

To combat the short- and long-term challenges felt by this bottleneck, the United States Senate recently approved a bill that would pump more than $52 billion into companies producing new chips stateside. Along with directly funding more domestic semiconductor production, the bill—dubbed the Chips and Science Act—also funnels billions of dollars into broader scientific research aimed squarely at making the U.S. less reliant on foreign manufacturers for critical components. 

For instance, the bill itemizes $11 billion toward chip manufacturing research and workforce training to help companies staff facilities stateside. While businesses like Intel have already made commitments , there’s a shortage of existing talent in the U.S. to help get these operations up and running.

Manufacturers can’t wait to deploy new solutions

Recently, on CNBC’s Closing Bell, Medtronic CEO Geoff Martha said that despite supporting the new bill wholeheartedly, “it will take several years to get [chip] capacity online” as workers are trained and facilities are built. 

But beyond just staffing, manufacturers need to embrace new technologies across the factory that will help ensure investments pay off and to prevent long-term delays in the future. Primary among these technologies is computer vision, which has applications in use today that could have a transformative impact on supply chains if and when they are deployed broadly. 

Already, many organizations are leveraging computer vision applications for things like PPE detection and worker safety. Many of these proved critical for keeping facilities open and operational at the height of the pandemic. But as more U.S. factories are built in the coming years, computer vision technology can be deployed in broader use cases to help accelerate time-to-market as worker expertise catches up with the global competition.

Computer Vision for the “Factory of the Future”

With cameras trained to  watch assembly lines, entire supply chain operations teams can create meaningful solutions that deliver accurate insights for goods handling across individual or multiple facilities. From product QA/QC, to label and barcode reading, and even packaging classification with predictive real-time defect detection, these solutions can be critical in ensuring inventory makes it into production at a competitive pace.

Organizations are also looking to implement automation across as much of their distribution processes as possible to increase workforce efficiency and reduce inaccuracies and delays. Computer vision solutions are at the forefront here, providing autonomous capabilities to speed processes like trailer unloading to ensure load start-end-departure accuracy can be captured and alerts can be triggered across other systems when delays occur.

With the right combination of the latest camera and vision AI technologies, logistics hubs and distribution centers can also detect and track product compromises with near flawless results. This above all else is critical to preventing recalls (ie. the latest baby food shortage) that could have life-or-death consequences if consumers aren’t alerted. 

While these broad applications can be impactful in almost any factory setting, it’ll be critical that chip manufacturers start deploying these latest techniques as soon as possible to help close the gap in capacity and future-proof their supply chains. To learn more about how Plainsight’s computer vision platform and innovation services support enterprises across the supply chain, schedule a conversation  with our experts.

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