The next revolution in automation is the much hyped, Industrie 4.0 as the Europeans refer to it. What is it really? It is the application of relatively unlimited computing power to the existing set of problems we already deal with. Making stuff, like cars, beer, toothbrushes, whatever. So it’s the same set of problems with a new set of tools. Tools like artificial intelligence.
What is artificial intelligence as it applies to manufacturing and Industrie 4.0? Real world applications of artificial intelligence involve creating programs that imitate human approaches to problem solving. The other type of artificial intelligence is fiction that posits the ability of programming to exceed the limits of the programmer, usually evil, and tries to subjugate mankind. Not likely.
In the short run, the most important aspect of artificial intelligence is to do a ‘first scrub’ of data to serve up information that is meaningful so we can get rid of the rest. This is a giant issue in applying “big data” to industrial applications. Profiling consumer preferences using Big Data algorithms is a totally different thing.
The ‘intelligence’ aspect of industrial AI is writing algorithms and programming that implements rules and decision making based on expert knowledge of what proper system operation is. So it looks just as if a human was working the control system. EXACTLY!
What we should also expect to see is something a little like the Maker movement. People will be coming up with all sorts of new applications of the technology that will provide useful information to users. All based on modeling human knowledge and insight. Which is exactly how AI got its start.
One of the first artificial intelligence programs was a software application that helped perform complex diagnostics of GE Locomotive engines. A simple example of today’s AI is a smart thermostat that communicates over the internet.
The next wave in AI for the factory floor will be the result of embedding compute power in wide array of sensors and data streams. The low cost of hardware and the value of acquiring pre-conditioned data for decision making will make these systems very compelling. Much will be focused on preventive maintenance and optimization of equipment throughout all sectors where controls are used; manufacturing, energy production, residential and commercial real estate, even health services. All fields in which controlling costs and reporting data will generate value.
And it’s only just beginning.