Using AI On The Factory Floor

When people think of automation or artificial intelligence used in a factory, robotic arms assembling cars may be an image that comes to mind. They may even think of the newer robots like Baxter or Sawyer from Rethink Robots or the former Kiva Systems robots used in Amazon warehouses. Lots of companies have fully integrated various automated capabilities into their practices and now many are looking at other ways tech can be leveraged to benefit their business.

Computer scientist and entrepreneur, Andrew Ng wants to see autonomous technology used in manufacturing in a new way. His new startup, sees a lot of untapped potential for using AI to enhance the quality and consistency of products that roll out of a factory. Using artificial intelligence in varied inspection processes could greatly contribute to that.

For example, when stamping metal flat washers and shims in all sizes, there are a lot of qualities and attributes that must be checked to ensure the components meet with defined specs. This means a washer manufacturer must implement and maintain numerous processes that are devoted to quality and compliance. It’s no small undertaking but the success of countless structures, equipment, and other applications that require such parts, depend upon these assurance practices.

Andrew Ng sees a potential for AI in such processes. He has stressed that inconsistencies and flaws could get past human inspectors as consistent product judgements from multiple people can be difficult to achieve. It’s even more complicated when products vary in some way. The more complex the product, the more demanding the inspection process is for human eyes.

Image result for factory inspection’s software has been created to perform detailed, AI driven analysis to complete various inspection tasks using the aid of photo analysis and x-rays. They may even offer ultrasound capabilities, which might be used to check fan blades on Boeing engines in the near future.

Now Mr. Ng wants to turn more CEOs on to the idea of AI on the factory floor as part of the inspection process for all manner of products. In a recent Fortune article, he is quoted as saying, “I’ve been to so many manufacturing plants. I’ve yet to walk into one where I did not think AI solutions wouldn’t help.”

But will this type of technology be a threat to workers who have developed skills dedicated to inspection or quality assurance? It still makes good sense for human inspectors to oversee quality assurance and inspection processes, even if AI technology is taking care of the particulars. The same article states that’s aim is to provide AI solutions to companies that are interested in using AI but are unable or who have chosen not to build their own teams.

How specific companies will merge the human element with automated technology is something we’ll have yet to see.

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