Watson IoT Takes to the Manufacturing Floor

IoT CognitiveMuch of the discussion at Hannover Messe 2017, the world’s largest annual industrial fair, will center on the fourth revolution of industry, or, simply, Industry 4.0.

While Industry 4.0 is a relatively new topic, it has deep roots that tie back more than 200 years to the first industrial revolution when new manufacturing processes came of age. These processes didn’t just help humans, they drove production to levels never seen before.

With Industry 4.0, computers and machines still play a central role, but with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing, they are more connected and intelligent than even Henry Ford could ever have imagined.

IBM is very familiar with Industry 4.0. Recently, IBM Watson IoT unveiled their latest commitment to this evolution, a Cognitive Visual Inspection solution which gives manufacturers a set of eyes that can virtually eliminate costly defects and increase product quality.

When people talk about the marriage of cognitive and manufacturing, much of the focus has been on managing factory equipment and assets, including making sure the machines stay up and running. Obviously that is critically important but cognitive manufacturing is also about the quality of the products these machines are manufacturing.

Manufacturers require the highest quality of inspection and it must be present at every stage of production and assembly. In fact, more than half of quality checks involve visual confirmation to help ensure that all parts of the product are in the correct location, have the right shape or color or texture, and more.

That may seem simple enough but imagine the number and variety of products being manufactured today and then being asked to identify every single defect, many of which are so small they can easily pass by unnoticed. Cognitive Visual Inspection uses an ultra-high definition (UHD) camera and cognitive capabilities from IBM Watson to capture images of these products as they move through production and assembly.

By working alongside human inspectors, IBM can immediately detect defects in products, even something as small as a pinhole-size puncture. IBM’s commitment to quality in the manufacturing process is also at the very heart of another announcement we made today with ABB. The partnership brings together ABB’s excellence in industrial automation and energy with our Watson IoT cognitive capabilities. And guess what one of our initial focuses is.

That’s right, quality control. Working together, ABB and IBM are training Watson to find defects using real-time production images captured through an ABB system and then analyzed using IBM Watson IoT for Manufacturing. By bringing Watson’s real time cognitive insights directly to the shop floor in combination with ABB’s industrial automation technology, companies will be able to do the unthinkable–increase the volume flowing through their production line while at the same time improving accuracy and consistency. Consider an automobile manufacturer. Now as car parts flow through the manufacturing process, teams will be alerted when a critical fault that’s not visible to the human eye is identified, such as an issue in the quality of welding.

That’s not the sort of defect that you can afford to have slip by unnoticed. Identifying it then and there allows for fast intervention from quality control experts and easier identification trends that ultimately impact all goods on the production line. Based on my discussions here at Hannover Messe, there is a lot of interest in cognitive manufacturing, and for good reason.

This marriage offers manufacturers the most welcome of promises—the ability to not just enable new levels of productivity, but ensure that the items being manufactured are flawless. It’s this new reality that makes the fourth revolution of industry so groundbreaking.

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