During yesterday’s Tech Council event, CEO and Executive Director Buckley Brinkman referenced a recent WCMP survey. It found more than half of respondents think AI “has nothing to do with their business,” while nearly three-fourths said they will never use the technology at all.

“We just think that’s really, really shortsighted and wrong, if you’re trying to survive in the new world,” Brinkman said.

Both of the other panelists agreed, with Taylor arguing “you’re going to be left in the dust” by ignoring the potential of AI. While Beard said his example is more of an entry-level use of the technology, Taylor noted Fairbanks Morse Defense spent $1 million on its initial AI investment.

“We could have done it less expensive if it wasn’t for the product size that we have, right, if it was a generator for instance, I could have done it for probably a third of the cost,” he said. “It really came down to the scale and the security that the Navy required on the system.”

He also said AI has allowed the company to rapidly deploy the pre-built software system to other machines, with the bulk of the work being done on the initial development. While he spent about 340 hours of initial engineering work on deploying it on the first engine, that process takes just 10 hours each on subsequent projects.

“While there is a large investment on the initial development and design of the AI, I can deploy it rapidly now at a very low cost to my organization,” he said. “So the gross margin that we’re able to get on these projects is a wonderful hockey stick, where it was very low in the beginning, and now we’re seeing multiples every time we deploy the software.”

Yesterday’s discussion also touched on potential future uses of AI, with Beard noting he expects it to play a big role in speeding up worker training at Duxxbak Composite Decking. And Taylor said Fairbanks Morse wants to deploy AI-enabled robotics for maintenance jobs in the coming years.

“That’s really what our end-state goal is with AI that we’re building, that you can have a robot on a Navy ship that responds to an anomaly the AI detects, and it is smart enough to find its way to the work location and do the job,” he said, adding the timeline for that application is three to five years.

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