WHAT IS INDUSTRIAL ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE?


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August 26, 2021

WHAT IS INDUSTRIAL ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE?

INTRO

Although Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies began to be developed several decades ago, several definitions currently coexist that include concepts such as Big Data, data science, machine learning or IoT.

AI is defined as a set of tools and methodologies that allow machines to simulate processes and develop tasks that require applying human intelligence such as decision making, object recognition or speech understanding.

The industrial sector has been immersed for years in its digital transformation in what has been called the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0. There is no doubt that this sector has a high potential to lead the application of AI technologies in the monitoring and optimization of its processes, providing an appropriate scenario to test its benefits, from design and manufacturing processes to the management of the value chain. Thus, large companies such as GE, Siemens, Intel, Funac, Kuka, Bosch, ABB, NVIDIA and Microsoft are investing heavily in the development of new systems to improve their production.

At this juncture, the concept of Industrial Artificial Intelligence (IAI) has recently emerged, which can be defined as the application of AI to the operations, processes and physical systems of a company, so that the behavior of these operations, processes and systems can be monitored, optimized or controlled to improve their efficiency and performance, providing them with greater autonomy. Thus, this concept includes applications related to the manufacture of physical products, production lines and warehouses, or operations related to different processes.

It is an end-to-end system, in which sensors generate data, which are sent, managed and analyzed by means of different algorithms and models that generate decisions in real time and whose results are returned for actual implementation in the actuators.

USE CASES

There are several different use cases related to three categories of applications depending on the degree of automation involved: monitoring, optimization and control.

Monitoring

Industrial processes need to monitor the performance of their systems and products to identify or predict failures and other situations that lead to unsatisfactory results. Some examples that will benefit from IAI technologies are as follows:

  • Quality Control

Companies find it difficult to maintain high levels of quality and comply with regulations and standards due to the current short time-to-market for new products and services and their increasing complexity. On the other hand, consumers expect defect-free products, so companies must avoid the damage that complaints and defective products can do to the brand.

In this context, AI algorithms enable a new form of quality control. On the one hand, algorithms based on image recognition technologies warn production teams in real time about faults in production systems that can reduce product quality (e.g., recipe deviation, changes in raw materials). On the other hand, the implementation of these algorithms allows the prediction of maintenance and planning tasks that minimize the associated risks. Finally, the integration of such algorithms with IoT platforms allows the collection of data on the use and behavior of products during their useful life, information that can be very valuable when making strategic and design decisions.

  • Predictive maintenance

The continuous maintenance of production machinery represents a major expense in manufacturing processes, so it is important to implement solutions based on AI algorithms that allow predicting future failures in a part, machine or system in order to drastically reduce unplanned downtime and increase the useful life of production systems.

Optimization

IAI-based decision making and planning systems allow users to design plans to optimize a set of business metrics.

  • Process planning

Many industrial scenarios include complex work sequences whose order of execution can significantly impact factors such as cost, time, quality, workloads, supplies or waste. The application of AI-based optimization algorithms allows such sequences to be defined dynamically in real time.

  • Generative design

AI is changing the way products and services are designed. Generative design uses AI algorithms to design new products based on their description, including parameters such as type of material, means of production, budget or time to market. These algorithms analyze different configurations before proposing the best solutions.

  • New market adaptation strategies

The application of AI is not limited to the production plant; its algorithms make it possible to optimize supply chains or help companies anticipate market changes. All this is a great advantage for business management, moving from a reactive approach to a strategic one. Thus, estimates of market demand can be formulated by searching for patterns that relate location, socioeconomic and macroeconomic factors, weather patterns, political status or consumer behavior so that companies can optimize their resources or control inventory.

Control

Finally, control systems are at the heart of industrial process operations and are essential to reap the full benefits of automation. Examples of applications that benefit from AI include the following:

  • Robotics

Traditionally, industrial robots have been explicitly programmed to move between a series of 2D or 3D points and perform specific actions at those points. New approaches such as collaborative robots or co-robots simplify programming by allowing the capture of these points based on the robot’s physical position. However, in both cases, the robot does not detect changes in the environment or in the position of the parts it is manipulating. Therefore, computer vision allows robots not to interfere with people or other robots, and to interact independently.

  • AGV

Autonomous mobile robots (AGVs) are used in warehouses and companies to transport and collect materials thanks to the use of image-based AI algorithms that enable them to understand, map and navigate these environments more efficiently.

CHALLENGES OF INDUSTRIAL ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Industrial AI presents a number of challenges that set it apart from other consumer-facing AI applications.

  • Data acquisition and storage

IAI systems rely on data captured by sensors that seek to digitally represent the real world. The implementation of IoT platforms and cyber-physical systems (CPS) has enabled large volumes of data in industrial processes whose acquisition, management and storage has led to different architectures and storage systems.

However, it should not be forgotten that large volumes of data are often captured with a lot of noise, which makes it difficult to acquire and store the data for subsequent analysis. Therefore, advanced simulation techniques including digital twins are used to generate training data under different conditions.

  • Data hybridization

A challenge of IAI is the generation of common formats for heterogeneous data coming from diverse sources (images, videos, dwg plans, …). For this, it will be necessary to develop semi-automatic models that help to structure (e.g. extraction of information from a plan, extraction of tags from an image), homogenize (e.g. spatial/temporal interpolation techniques to move from data in one unit to another) and/or harmonize data (e.g. product matching/record linkage techniques to associate data from different sources).

  • Training

The correct application of IA algorithms is associated with the availability of annotated training data. Capturing this data can be complex in industrial environments, as it is often difficult to detect and reproduce some of the failures or lack of quality of products and services.

  • Regulated environments

Industrial environments must comply with certain standards and regulations that impact their operations, such as product safety, public health, environmental impact or occupational safety. In some cases, regulatory controls can make it difficult to implement AI technologies.

As stated in the European Data Strategy1 published by the European Commission in February 2020, Europe must become a model of a data-empowered society for better decision making in the public sector and private enterprise. To this end, the European Union will promote a legal framework in relation to data protection, fundamental rights, security and cybersecurity. The aim is to generate an ecosystem of trust thanks to a regulatory framework for AI2.

SITUATION IN SPAIN

According to a study by EY for Microsoft, the majority of companies surveyed in Spain (65%) have plans, pilot projects or proofs of concept around AI. However, only 20% have solutions in operation, 12 points below the European average.

The “Strategy for Artificial Intelligence in R&D&I in Spain” includes a section oriented to the application of AI in the Connected Industry. As the document states, Spanish industry represents 13% of the country’s added value and employs 11% of the employed population, so the social and economic impact of AI technologies is essential.

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