SUSTAINABILITY - "Artificial intelligence is going to play a huge role in the manufacturing processes of the future. Far more than we can imagine today."
Modern society can no longer ignore artificial intelligence (AI). We see it used in everything, from applications in phone cameras to digital art. But AI goes beyond that. Anyone walking around Brainport Industries Campus (BIC) can get a taste of how it is also being applied in the manufacturing industry. “It is going to make factory machinery more robust, safer and more efficient in the future. Far more than we can imagine today,” says Paul Cobben of the High Tech Software Cluster at BIC.
The manufacturing industry, which accounts for nearly one-fifth of the Dutch economy, is digitalizing. Whether it involves smart robots or digital twins, AI applications are raising the production environment to a higher level. In fact, AI enhances and processes data from factories, thereby improving efficiency and ultimately yielding higher returns. It also helps make the industry more sustainable. Examples include a significant reduction in material waste and energy savings in production machinery.
The Digital Factory
At BIC, the manufacturing industry all get together to breathe life into such innovations. Companies there learn from each other and work directly with each other. Optimal use is thus made of the knowledge and expertise that is present in the ecosystem.
In particular, the High Tech Software Cluster, one of the Smart Industry Fieldlabs where partners get to experiment with new technology, helps manufacturing and production companies to digitalize their production processes and with the creation of smart products. Together with other Smart Industry Fiedlabs, which focus on themes such as robotics and 3D printing, it conducts research into the Digital Factory on data-driven innovations, whereby AI consequently plays an indispensable role.
Cobben, who in addition to being a member of the cluster is also a sector developer of manufacturing for the Dutch telecom company KPN and runs a 5G field lab for the manufacturing industry at BIC, primarily looks at AI from the perspective of connectivity. “For a properly functioning AI, you have to have a robust 5G network, which we at KPN have built here right here on the Brainport Industries Campus. This is because an AI needs to be fed with as much data as possible in order to make the best possible decisions and must be continuously connected to other machinery and systems to retrieve data. Local processing of the data also plays an important role. “To do this, we have set up a so-called local edge computing environment that works with the 5G network as a way to make data available very quickly for industrial automation.”
This kind of factory with interconnected AI systems works as follows: In the future, machines will increasingly be controlled from these local edge computers, where all logic is virtualized and centralized. This will help make both the machine and the central environment more robust. Moreover, much more complex models can be put to use, ideal for the optimization of production processes. Consider improved orchestration between production sub-processes and insight into the quality of the finished product.
Extending the application of AI in the Digital Factory and other AI-related innovations at BIC offer even more advantages. For starters, they help achieve sustainability goals. In 2019, together with more than 150 parties from the Brainport region, the campus expressed its support for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) drawn up by the UN. AI-driven, and therefore energy-efficient, factory machines that produce less waste are helping to achieve these ambitions as well. The building is also 100 percent gas-free, fully powered by renewable energy, and the materials used in BIC come from healthy ecological cycles.
Sustainability is also a key focus of the campus organization BIC Exploitatie and its leaseholders. Campus Director Erik Veurink: We see that at a lot of organizations too; the importance of sustainability is being talked about and recognized. However, at BIC we also like to show concrete examples so that it is also more tangible for everyone.” AI is a good example of how various SDGs involving industry, innovation and infrastructure can be leveraged.
A smart flytrap
Both within and outside of BIC, KPN is already working with partners to set up smart factories through the use of AI, such as the Alcohem one which focuses on pesticides and fertilizers. KPN helped the company invent a connected smart flytrap that is being used in the food industry. Smart algorithms are able to instantly recognize which fly is which and which stock is potentially at risk. Also, maintenance of the device can now be done remotely, as the flytrap is directly connected to the 4G network.
A machine platform
There is plenty of innovation with AI at BIC itself as well. For example, HTSC member Cordis SUITE has developed a machine platform where machine behavior models provide the basis for production applications. Advanced AI models are capable of determining, for instance, whether future situations are likely to occur that cause the machine to crash.
A thermal camera
At BIC, KPN is also working with hardware and AI start-up Calumino, which has developed a new thermal camera. This will be connected to the 5G network at BIC, which will enable algorithms on the camera to interact with algorithms on the edge server. That way, the camera is able to anonymously identify people from various positions.
The next level
AI, low-code machine platforms, augmented reality and 5G networks will ultimately work together to make sure that factories reach the next level in the future, Cobben says in conclusion. “Considering how fast developments are going in all these areas, it is now a bit difficult to imagine exactly what those digital factories will look like. Based on our concrete use cases, anyone can clearly see the impact that these technologies will have on an organization. That’s why I’d like to invite companies and organizations to visit the HTSC at BIC.”