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Putting artificial intelligence at the edge

11 March 2019

Patricia Torres explains how food and beverage manufacturers could benefit from the latest machine control technology. 

Discussion about artificial intelligence (AI) in food manufacturing is gaining momentum, offering a solution in applications to enable predictive maintenance and networked, efficient production, the use of adaptive algorithms can offer benefits. AI also presents an opportunity to increase Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) – helping combine reduced costs with increased productivity. It also helps improve the analysis of data to support continuous improvement programs.

According to a 2015 study by Aberdeen Group although OEE values of 89% have been achieved by leaders of the food and beverage industry, many of the traditional systems currently in use in the majority of food factories have been generating figures of around 74%. AI technology could help improve these figures by helping to prevent machine downtimes. 

However, many of the available AI solutions – which are often cloud-based – have significant requirements in terms of infrastructure and IT; these solutions also work with an overwhelming amount of data that is laborious and time-consuming to prepare and process and system designs for the production industry are generally both complex and unique which has resulted in many not being  confident about their return on investment in AI technology.
The question of added value often remains somewhat murky for providers, who cannot determine whether and how the investment in AI will provide a return. The fact that system designs for the production industry are generally both complex and unique is another contributing factor. 

A different direction
So, given these conditions, how do automation vendors go about designing and integrating AI that creates tangible added value in the production process? Instead of laboriously searching a huge volume of data for patterns, in addition to the processes that are running, Omron believes it is sensible to take a different direction: The required AI algorithms are integrated in the machine control system, creating the framework for real-time optimisation at the machine, for the machine – the edge. 

In contrast to cloud computing, where individual manufacturing lines or sites are analysed using limited processing power at a high level, an AI controller recently launched by Omron, which features adaptive intelligence, is closer to the action and learns to distinguish normal patterns from abnormal ones for the individual machine. 

The AI controller collects, analyses and utilises data on Edge devices within a controller to prolong equipment longevity and detects unforeseen events to prevent failures. This can help reduce the risk of equipment damage and downtime by detecting issues early on and prompting immediate action. 

The AI controller is driven by practical requirements and aims to improve OEE – even a few percentage points gain can result in significant efficiency gains and cost reductions.

The AI controller has been integrated into Omron’s Sysmac platform for factory automation to add intelligence based on previous findings and improvements that have been made and subsequently drive holistic optimisation of the manufacturing process.

Patricia Torres is industry marketing manager for Food and Commodities at Omron Europe.

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