Artificial Intelligence is a key strategic differentiator

Picture this scenario. You’re an electronic goods manufacturer and you’ve had to put out a product recall following complaints from customers that their devices are faulty. Even though taking action has meant safeguarding customers, it’s come at a price as you’ve had to refund them or replace the faulty products.

Such a scenario can be avoided if the defect in question is spotted on the assembly line. “Humans tire easily and have the potential to be distracted. They’re prone to making mistakes. Automated assembly systems, combined with end-of-line buy-off equipment, such as intelligent vision systems, don’t suffer from this [problem],” says Chris Unwin, managing director of LAC Conveyors and Automation, which designs, manufactures and installs conveyor belt systems for blue-chip companies.

Vision-based systems are not new and have been used frequently by the manufacturing industry for inspecting and quality checking since the 1990s. But systems integrated with artificial intelligence (AI) take it a giant step further.

For example, US startup Instrumental, founded by two former Apple engineers, has developed a technology which can detect differences and distinguish between defects and insignificant design flaws that aren’t a cause for concern. The more images the system captures and analyses, the more it learns, and the better it becomes at spotting anomalies that could otherwise lead to product recalls.

Instrumental’s founders say the technology will help manufacturers “prevent delays and enter mass production with confidence”.

This is an example of the potential of AI, a broad term that is often misinterpreted. One common misconception is that machines and devices that learn are beginning to think for themselves, rendering human workers redundant. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. AI-driven technology only does what it’s programmed to do, but for this to happen, manufacturers need to know what they want AI to do and be aware of the tangible benefits it presents.

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