Companies for Quality Control to Reduce COVID-19 risks
COVID-19 has had a massive impact on production and, all over the world, businesses from all fields are struggling with delayed schedules because of it. Fortunately, AI-powered robots are here to help and, as proven by a company in Atsugi, Japan, automation can help humanity cope with the risks of a pandemic. At the factory of Musashi Seimitsu Industry, a manufacturer of transportation equipment, robotic arms are taking over some of the tasks of quality inspectors, leading the shift from the famous “go and see” system popularized by Toyota in the 2020th century.
How do these AI-powered robots work? First, a robotic arm picks up the part. Then, it scans it to detect surface flaws using a special light. This whole process takes about two seconds, which is exactly how much time an experienced safety inspector would need. In an entire shift, one robot can scan up to 1,000 units.
According to the company’s CEO, safety inspections are crucial to maintain product quality and they require a lot of skill, but this isn’t a creative task. On the contrary, it’s very repetitive, and the company wanted to release its workers from it. From the very beginning of robotics, businesses have explored its potential of completing repetitive tasks, but now, because of the COVID-19, they have even more incentives to accelerate the shift.
Social distancing guidelines don’t allow factories to have as many safety inspectors on the same floor, which automatically slows down the production process. Meanwhile, AI-powered robots aren’t at risk of contracting the virus, they don’t need to take breaks, and they offer the same high accuracy as an experienced inspector, so their use is invaluable for factories during these challenging times.
The “go and see” method, or “genchi genbutsu”, has been used intensively by Japanese companies ever since it was invented by Toyota, but new times call for new measures. When asked about the potential of automation in the manufacturing industry, even representatives at Toyota Motor Corp said that they are considering it where it makes sense.
In recent years, AI-powered robots have become more and more advanced, offering higher accuracy rates than ever before. Robots are now capable of identifying many types of production defects in record time, and, although teaching the algorithm to spot these defects takes some time, it pays off in the long run. One solution came from Israeli entrepreneur Ran Poliakine, who changed the way robots are taught: instead of being shown flaws, the robots are shown hundreds of perfect samples. This way, they learn how the ideal component should look like, and they become faster at spotting the flaws.
Apart from Japan, India, the US, and several European countries have started to incorporate more robots into their production processes, especially in quality control, as a way of compensating for the staff shortages caused by the COVID-19 crisis. In the same way that the pandemic accelerated digital transformation in the business sector, it can also accelerate the transition towards automated manufacturing processes.