Amid much recent industry interest in the use of increased robotics on the plant floor, I was interested to see that industrial technology supplier ABB and IBM have announced a strategic collaboration which combines ABB’s digital offering, ABB Ability, with IBM’s Watson Internet of Things cognitive capabilities for customers in utilities, industry, transport and infrastructure. The first two joint solutions powered by ABB Ability and Watson will bring real-time cognitive insights to the factory floor and smart grids, ABB and IBM explain.


ABB has an installed base of 70 million connected devices, 70,000 digital control systems and 6,000 enterprise software solutions, while IBM is known for its artificial intelligence and cognitive computing. This combination of solutions marks “the next level of industrial technology, moving beyond current connected systems that simply gather data, to industrial operations and machines that use data to sense, analyze, optimize and take actions that drive greater uptime, speed and yield for industrial customers,” says ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer.


“This important collaboration with ABB will take Watson even deeper into industrial applications—from manufacturing, to utilities, to transportation and more,” says Ginni Rometty, IBM Chairman, president and CEO. “The data generated from industrial companies’ products, facilities and systems holds the promise of exponential advances in innovation, efficiency and safety.”


In one solution, ABB and IBM will leverage Watson’s artificial intelligence to help find product defects via real-time ultra-high definition production images captured through an ABB system, and then analyzed using Watson IoT for Manufacturing Cognitive Visual Inspection. Previously these types of inspections were performed manually, which was often a slow and error-prone process. By bringing Watson’s real-time cognitive insights directly to the shop floor in combination with ABB’s industrial automation technology, companies will be better equipped to increase the volume flowing through their production lines while improving accuracy and consistency, according to IBM and ABB.


As parts flow through the manufacturing process, the solution will alert the manufacturer to critical faults—not visible to the human eye—in the quality of assembly. This enables fast intervention from quality control experts, IBM notes. Easier identification of defects impacts all goods on the production line, and helps improve a company’s competitiveness while helping avoid costly recalls and reputational damage. Based on early testing of a production cycle that typically takes eight days with half of one day required for necessary visual inspection, the new IBM and ABB solution reduced inspection time by 80 percent and cut manufacturing defects by seven percent to 10 percent, IBM reports.


“By bringing cognition to the factory floor, IBM is helping usher in the fourth industrial revolution where entirely new levels of efficiency, flexibility and product excellence in manufacturing can become an everyday reality,” says Harriet Green, General Manager, IBM Watson IoT, Customer Engagement and Education. “With our new Cognitive Visual Inspection capabilities, we’re bringing a new set of intelligent eyes to the manufacturing floor which have the potential to help manufacturers not only virtually eliminate product defects, but may also help businesses maintain product excellence, build brand reputation and increase revenue.”


What are your thoughts about using artificial intelligence and cognitive computing to decrease defects and improve yield? What other processes would be good fits for this technology?