Japan explores AI because the pandemic curbs in-person high quality management


(Reuters) – At a manufacturing unit south of Japan’s Toyota Metropolis, robots have began sharing the work of quality-control inspectors, because the pandemic accelerates a shift from Toyota’s vaunted “go and see” system which helped revolutionize mass manufacturing within the twentieth century.

Contained in the auto-parts plant of Musashi Seimitsu, a robotic arm picks up and spins a bevel gear, scanning its tooth towards a lightweight searching for floor flaws. The inspection takes about two seconds – much like that of extremely educated staff who examine round 1,000 models per shift.

“Inspecting 1,000 of the very same factor day-in-day-out requires a number of ability and experience, nevertheless it’s not very inventive,” Chief Govt Hiroshi Otsuka advised Reuters. “We’d wish to launch staff from these duties.”

International producers have lengthy used robots in manufacturing whereas leaving the knotty work of recognizing flaws primarily to people. However social distancing measures to forestall the unfold of COVID-19 have prompted a rethink of the manufacturing unit ground.

That has spurred the elevated use of robots and different know-how for high quality management, together with distant monitoring which was already being adopted earlier than the pandemic.

In Japan, such approaches symbolize an acute departure from the “genchi genbutsu”, go-and-see methodology developed as a part of the Toyota Manufacturing System and embraced by Japanese producers for many years with nearly non secular zeal.

That course of duties staff with always monitoring all features of the manufacturing line to identify irregularities, and has made high quality management one of many final human hold-outs in in any other case automated factories.

But even at Toyota Motor Corp itself, when requested about automating extra genchi genbutsu procedures, a spokesman stated: “We’re all the time methods to enhance our manufacturing processes, together with automating processes the place it is smart to take action.”

High quality Calls for

Enhancements in synthetic intelligence (AI) have are available in tandem with more and more reasonably priced gear but in addition stricter high quality necessities from prospects.

“We’re more and more seeing a spot between the standard of merchandise made on common manufacturing traces and the standard our prospects demand,” stated Kazutaka Nagaoka, chief manufacturing officer at Japan Show, a provider to Apple in addition to quite a few automakers.

“The standard of merchandise made on automated traces is overwhelmingly increased and extra constant.”

Nevertheless, automating inspections is difficult, given the necessity to train robots to determine tens of hundreds of attainable defects for a selected product and apply that studying immediately.

Musashi Seimitsu’s low defect price of 1 per 50,000 models left the agency with out sufficient faulty examples to develop an environment friendly AI algorithm.

However an answer got here from Israeli entrepreneur Ran Poliakine, who utilized AI and optics know-how he had utilized in medical diagnostics to the manufacturing line.

His thought was to show the machine to identify the great, relatively than the unhealthy, by basing the algorithm on as much as 100 excellent or near-perfect models – a modification of the so-called golden pattern.

“For those who take a look at human tissue, you’re educating an algorithm what is nice and what’s not good, and also you solely have one second to carry out the diagnostic,” he stated.

‘On Steroids’

For the reason that breakthrough, Poliakine’s startup SixAI and Musashi Seimitsu have established MusashiAI, a three way partnership which develops and hires out high quality management robots – a primary within the subject.

Inquiries from automakers, components suppliers and different corporations in Japan, India, america, and Europe have quadrupled since March when the novel coronavirus went international, Poliakine stated.

“COVID-19 has accelerated the transfer. All the things is on steroids now, as a result of working from house is exhibiting that distant work can work,” he stated.

Earlier this 12 months auto components maker Marelli, which has operational headquarters in Japan and Italy, additionally started utilizing AI high quality inspection robots at a plant in Japan, and advised Reuters final month that it wished AI to play a much bigger function in high quality inspections within the coming years.

Printer maker Ricoh plans to automate the entire manufacturing processes for drum models and toner cartridges at certainly one of its Japan vegetation by March 2023. Robots carry out a lot of the processes already, and since April, technicians have been monitoring gear on the manufacturing unit ground from residence.

“In fact, you have to be on-site to evaluate and execute options when points come up, however figuring out and confirming are duties we will now do from residence,” stated Kazuhiro Kanno, basic supervisor at Ricoh’s printer manufacturing unit.

Musashi Seimitsu is not going to say when it envisions its manufacturing unit flooring to be totally automated, however Otsuka stated AI stands to enrich, not threaten, the go-and-see system.

“AI doesn’t ask ‘Why? Why?’ however people do. We’re hoping to free them as much as ask why and the way defects happen,” he stated. “It will allow extra individuals to search for methods to always enhance manufacturing, which is the aim of ‘genchi genbutsu’.”

(Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu and Makiko Yamazaki; Extra reporting by Maki Shiraki and Noriyuki Hirata; Enhancing by David Dolan and Christopher Cushing)

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