- Artificial Intelligence coordinates multi-agent systems
- Implementing European projects on the demonstrator in Kaiserslautern
The Chief Technology Officer of a major automation supplier once told me that an important technology I should keep an eye on was intelligent agents. Indeed, the poor little software object rarely gets star billing on the program. The technology does exist. This information came to me last month about multi-agent systems. It encompasses a European smart factory initiative. This initiative bears watching.
A consortium of seventeen European partners is developing multi-agent systems for autonomous modular production in the research project called MAS4AI (Multi-Agent Systems for pervasive Artificial Intelligence to assist humans in modular production environments). The European Union (EU) has funded the project with almost 6 million euros.
MAS4AI is a project focused on selected sectors of industry that plans for their smart digital transformation over the next three years using the tools of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The aim is to achieve resilient production that can react flexibly to changing requirements or disruptions in the added value networks. The underlying basis is the large variety of products in lot size 1 in complex manufacturing operations.
Single agents acting in concert
Multi-agent systems are an area of distributed artificial intelligence research, in which several differently specialized “intelligent” and mostly autonomous software components (agents or bots) act in a coordinated manner to jointly solve a problem. The researchers are working towards the long-term goal of stable production, which among other things, relies on Shared Production and Production-as-a-Service. Communication, synchronization, and coordination of skills (production capabilities) are needed in a production network in order to implement our vision. This coordination will be performed by AI processes in the future. The European project partners envision a future production that can be distributed in European networks (like GAIA-X).
People make the decisions
Scientists and engineers from Greece, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain are initially working on a modular system architecture and a communication structure to create the foundation on which to integrate industrial AI services for smart production. In the process, human participants will always retain control over the AI technologies. The prerequisite for this is to have AI processes designed in a way that is always understandable to the operator. Only then can they be validated, optimized, or modified. Demonstrators oriented on a series of industrial use cases are being developed in MAS4AI. The use cases are in European industrial sectors of high added value, such as companies from the automotive industry, contract manufacturing, bicycle production, or wood processing.
Production Level 4 as the visionary basis
“MAS4AI fits perfectly into our concept of Production Level 4, which is based on production-bots and modular networks. Our concept envisions future production resources that offer their capabilities (skills) to the networks and autonomously (self-directed) call up the products,” said Prof. Martin Ruskowski, Chairman of the Executive Board of SmartFactory-KL, Head of DFKI’s Innovative Factory Systems research, and Chair of the department of Machine Tools and Controls at TU Kaiserslautern. “The products in our vision know their attributes and their current production progress. Such products search their own way among the skills to complete their own production. This may take place in a facility, but also in a Europe-wide network.”
Four scientific and technological goals
The consortium is developing the following four topics:
- Multi-agent systems for the distribution of AI components at various levels of a hierarchy. The key idea is to control interaction between agents on a task-specific basis with agents integrated to form an overall system.
- AI agents that use knowledge-based representations with semantic web technologies. Every agent can detect what skills it has to offer and those of other agents and, in this way, decide what action should be executed. This also makes it easier to integrate people into the production, because the data is also prepared in a way that is understandable to them.
- AI agents for the hierarchical planning of production processes. Processes are broken down into individual steps and optimally reassembled according to the current requirements. Disturbances in the flow can be compensated.
- Model-based AI agents for Machine Learning (ML). These hybrid models are designed to combine human knowledge about physical processes with data acquired for machines.
A fundamental concept in MAS4AI is the integration of all smart components (machines with attributes like self-direction, self-description, and self-learning abilities) in a holistic system architecture. This facilitates easy development and use of industrial AI technologies. Software developers, system integrators, and end users will all benefit because the hurdle for the use of AI is low. “We expect this to generate revolutionary ideas for business models as well as brand new market opportunities,” said Ruskowski.
- Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz GmbH, Deutschland
- Nederlandse Organisatie voor Toegepast Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek, Niederlande
- University of Patras – Laboratory for Manufacturing Systems & Automation, Griechenland
- Fundacion Tecnalia Research and Innovation, Spanien
- Asociacion De Investigacion Metalurgica del Noroeste, Spanien
- University of Silesia, Polen
- Volkswagen AG, Deutschland
- SCM Group Spa, Italien
- SC Baltik Vairas, Litauen
- VDL Industrial Modules, Niederlande
- Fersa Bearings S.A., Spanien
- Semaku B.V., Niederlande
- Symvouloi Kai Proionta Logismikou, Griechenland
- flexis AG, Deutschland
- Sisteplant, S. L., Spanien
- D.M.D. Computers SRL, Italien
- Smart Manufacturing Competences Centre INTECHCENTRAS, Litauen
Bringing together control, IT, and the IoT to create an open, scalable system
The idea of “softPLCs”, software-defined control, decoupling software and hardware for control, and the like revisited my thinking thanks to commenting on a paper on that subject by IoT-Analytics. In the discrete, machine automation world, this is an old topic dating back more than 22 years.
It still hasn’t happened. Yes, the marketing arms of some companies trumpet the idea. The Open Process Automation Forum is pushing the idea in the continuous and batch process world. I have yet to see any disruption occurring because of it. Some of the companies that analysts think are disruptive have been around for upwards of 30 years and the three main incumbents are still leading—Siemens in German/Italy, Rockwell Automation in North America, Mitsubishi in Asia.
That doesn’t mean the idea has been shelved completely. There must be some sort of cycle where Bosch Rexroth recurs on my radar with a new platform. I don’t understand all the parts of this new “ctrlX Automation”, but it looks interesting.
These are quotes from Bosch Rexroth.
ctrlX AUTOMATION is based on a completely new software and engineering approach and means a complete departure from proprietary structures and systems. The automation platform includes all necessary software and hardware components for complete system solutions: high-performance controllers, compact drives, industrial PCs, safety solutions, I/O modules and HMIs.
ctrlX AUTOMATION enhanced with an open I/O range
The ctrlX I/O range from Bosch Rexroth offers new possibilities for users in terms of connectivity and networking. The solution represents a functional extension of the ctrlX CORE control platform and also enables horizontal and vertical integration. In the future, ctrlX I/O will offer comprehensive communication and performance enhancements as well as I/O modules geared towards future technologies such as 5G, TSN and AI.
Embedded controller ctrlX CORE now available
In addition, the embedded controller ctrlX CORE is ready to ship with the start of the fair. The modular, compact control is suitable for any automation application and, with its openness, offers users completely new degrees of freedom in setting up the functions. ctrlX CORE’s full scope of functions has already been tested by selected customers.
ctrlX SAFETY: redefining safe automation
With the safety solution ctrlX SAFETY, Bosch Rexroth is setting new standards for safe automation. The product is regarded as the fastest and most compact safety solution on the automation market. Its reaction time allows a more compact design and maximum safety during production.
ctrlX SERVICES for the automation of the future
The automation platform ctrlX AUTOMATION has recently been expanded to include ctrlX SERVICES. The ctrlX App Store now enables downloading of individually required software, while the ctrlX Device Portal facilitates easy and centralized administration of controls. The ctrlX AUTOMATION Community offers numerous functions such as support, know-how transfer and further training. Bosch Rexroth also guarantees 25 years of service availability for classic services.
ctrlX World for third party providers
Users can use apps from Bosch Rexroth, applications from third parties or apps they have produced themselves. ctrlX AUTOMATION users can access a broad portfolio of applications and download them easily via the App Store. In addition, more and more third-party providers are currently joining the ctrlX World, as they can provide their own apps on the platform and thus tap into new business potential.
- New technology improves quality control in manufacturing by identifying inconsistencies and anomalies in vision inspection datasets.
- Neurala Announces Strategic Partnership with IMA Group to Accelerate AI Technology
- Collaboration will improve quality inspection with AI-powered data analysis for Industrial IoT
Vision AI software company Neurala has made some news recently. At the end of October, it announced a strategic partnership for AI-powered data analysis, and today it announced a new quality control AI technology.
Today, Neurala announced the launch of AI “explainability” technology, purpose-built for applications in industrial and manufacturing. The new feature helps manufacturers improve quality inspections by accurately identifying objects in an image that are causing a particular problem or present an anomaly.
“Explainability is widely recognized as a key feature for AI systems, especially when it comes to identifying bias or ethical issues. But this capability has immense potential and value in industrial use cases as well, where manufacturers demand not only accurate AI, but also need to understand why a particular decision was made,” said Max Versace, CEO and co-founder of Neurala. “We’re excited to launch this new technology to empower manufacturers to do more with the massive amounts of data collected by IIoT systems, and act with the precision required to meet the demands of the Industry 4.0 era.”
Neurala’s explainability technology was built to address the digitization challenges of Industry 4.0. Industrial IoT systems are constantly collecting massive amounts of anomaly data – in the form of images – that are used in the quality inspection process. With the introduction of Neurala’s explainability feature, manufacturers can derive more actionable insights from these datasets, identifying whether an image truly is anomalous, or if the error is a false-positive resulting from other conditions in the environment, such as lighting. This gives manufacturers a more precise understanding of what went wrong, and where, in the production process, and allows them to take proper action – whether to fix an issue in the production flow or improve image quality.
Manufacturers can utilize Neurala’s explainability feature with either Classification or Anomaly Recognition models. Explainability highlights the area of an image causing the vision AI model to make a specific decision about a defect. In the case of Classification, this includes making a specific class decision on how to categorize an object; or in the case of Anomaly Recognition, it reveals whether an object is normal or anomalous. Armed with this detailed understanding of the workings of the AI model and its decision-making, manufacturers will be able to build better performing models that continuously improve processes and efficiencies.
Explainability is now available as part of Neurala’s cloud solution, Brain Builder, and will soon be available with Neurala’s on-premise software, VIA (Vision Inspection Automation). The technology is simple to implement, supporting Neurala’s mission to make AI accessible to all manufacturers, regardless of their level of expertise or familiarity with AI. With no custom code required, anyone can leverage explainability to gain a deeper understanding of image features that matter for vision AI applications.
Neurala announced a new strategic partnership with global manufacturing leader IMA Group. The partnership will deliver AI solutions for industrial machines, focused on field testing of AI that enables monitoring and provides actionable insights from data collected through industrial internet of things (IIoT) systems.
IMA is a global leader in the design and manufacture of automation equipment for the processing and packaging of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food and beverages. The company’s partnership with Neurala is the latest in its efforts to help industrial organizations realize Industry 4.0 initiatives, with AI and automation playing a key role.
“As the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) becomes commonplace – with dozens of sensors and cameras gathering product data, as well as basic diagnostics from industrial equipment – manufacturers critically need human-level AI that can extract actionable insights from that data at the compute edge,” said Max Versace, CEO and Co-Founder, Neurala. “Data without AI is not useful, and off-the-shelf cloud-based AI is not cut out for the manufacturing floor. Unlike traditional AI solutions, Neurala’s technology is trained at the edge, enabling it to continuously learn based on manufacturers’ data as it varies across specific machines and production runs. We are incredibly excited to bring this technology together with IMA’s industry-leading solutions and expertise. Our new partnership will demonstrate just how far edge AI can go in solving industrial monitoring challenges on a global scale.”
Neurala will work with IMA to deliver its technology directly on industrial machines, at the compute edge, allowing operators to quickly and independently set up advanced AI systems without requiring specialized expertise.
“Today, factory floors are more complex than ever, and manufacturers are challenged when it comes to managing the extremely high volume of data they’re amassing. To become even more competitive on the global stage, and to help manufacturers overcome this complexity, IMA must improve not only the quality of our products, but also, internal visibility on equipment health and productivity,” said Dario Rea, Director of Corporate Research & Innovation, IMA Group. “These competitive factors are even more acute in light of the global changes we have seen this year. Our commitment to building a company that is defined by innovation, technology and AI is greater than ever before, and our partnership with Neurala represents a key step in that commitment.”
As part of the partnership, IMA has made a targeted investment in Neurala.
I keep wondering when some enterprising entrepreneur or integrator (most likely not an incumbent in the automation sector) will check out the coming decoupling of software and hardware, latch onto the readily available high performance compute platforms, and totally disrupt the market. Maybe never. Maybe the market is too small? I see the possibilities!
New HPE GreenLake cloud services for HPC will enable any enterprise to run their most demanding workloads with fully managed, pre-bundled HPC cloud services to operate in any data center or colocation environment.
Today’s news from Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) packs potential. Check out the customer references toward the bottom of the release for a suggestion of the import to industrial and manufacturing applications.
HPE announced it is offering its HPC solutions as a service through HPE GreenLake. The new HPE GreenLake cloud services for HPC allow customers to combine the power of an agile, elastic, pay-per-use cloud experience with the world’s most-proven, market-leading HPC systems from HPE. Now any enterprise can tackle their most demanding compute and data-intensive workloads, to power AI and ML initiatives, speed time to insight, and create new products and experiences through a flexible as-a-service platform that customers can run on-premises or in a colocation facility.
It removes the complexity and cost associated with traditional HPC deployments by delivering fully managed, pre-bundled services based on purpose-built HPC systems, software, storage and networking solutions that come in small, medium or large options. Customers can order these through a self-service portal with simple point-and-click functions to choose the right configuration for their workload needs and receive services in as little as 14 days.
“The massive growth in data, along with Artificial Intelligence and high performance analytics, is driving an increased need for HPC in enterprises of all sizes, from the Fortune 500 to startups,” said Peter Ungaro, senior vice president and general manager, HPC and Mission Critical Solutions (MCS) at HPE. “We are transforming the market by delivering industry-leading HPC solutions in simplified, pre-configured services that control costs and improve governance, scalability and agility through HPE GreenLake. These HPC cloud services enable any enterprise to access the most powerful HPC and AI capabilities and unlock greater insights that will power their ability to advance critical research and achieve bold customer outcomes.”
HPC provides massive computing power, along with modeling and simulation capabilities, to turn complex data into digital models that help researchers and engineers understand what something will look like and perform in the real world. HPC also provides optimal performance to run AI and analytics to increase predictability. These combined capabilities are used to solve challenges from vaccine discovery and weather forecasting to improving designs of cars, planes and even personal and consumer products such as shampoo and laundry detergent.
Enterprises can deploy these services in any data center environment, whether on-premises in their own enterprise or in a colocation facility, and gain fully managed services that allow them to pay for only what they use, empowering them to focus on running their projects to increase time-to-insight and accelerate innovation.
HPE will initially offer an HPC service based on HPE Apollo systems, combined with storage and networking technologies, which are purpose-built for running modeling and simulation workloads. The service also leverages key HPC software for HPC workload management, support for HPC-specific containers and orchestration, and HPC cluster management and monitoring. HPE plans to expand the rest of its HPC portfolio to as-a-service offerings in the future.
Customers can choose these bundles from small, medium or large configurations, receive in as little as 14 days, and gain a fully managed service from HPE.
As part of the offering, customers will gain the following features to easily manage, deploy and control costs for their HPC services:
- HPE GreenLake Central offers an advanced software platform for customers to manage and optimize their HPC services.
- HPE Self-service dashboard enables users to run and manage HPC clusters on their own, without disrupting workloads, through a point-and-click function.
- HPE Consumption Analytics provides at-a-glance analytics of usage and cost based on metering through HPE GreenLake.
- HPC, AI & App Services standardizes and packages HPC workloads into containers, making it easier to modernize, transfer and access data. The factory process is leveraged by experts to quickly move applications into a container platform as needed.
From Research to Reality: Improving Accuracy, Product Design and Quality
Zenseact, a software developer for autonomous driving solutions based in Sweden and China, uses HPE’s HPC solutions as-a-service through HPE GreenLake for modeling and simulation capabilities to analyze the hundreds of petabytes of data it generates globally from its network of test vehicles and software development centers. The solutions help fuel Zenseact’s mission to model and simulate autonomous driving experiences to develop next-generation software to support driver safety.
“At Zenseact, our mission is to improve Advanced Driver-Assisted Systems and Automated Driving to create robust and flexible solutions that will push the envelope in technological innovation and transform the driving experience,” said Robert Tapper, CIO at Zenseact. “By deploying HPE’s high performance computing solutions as-a-service with HPE GreenLake, we are addressing our mission by performing 10,000 simulations per second, based on driving data from our test cars, to accelerate insights for designing software to enable safe autonomous vehicles.”
Other enterprise use case examples include:
- Building safer cars – Car manufacturers can model and test vehicle functions to improve designs, from simulating effectiveness of rubber types in tires to performing crash simulations to test impact for potential injuries to drivers and passengers.
- Improving manufacturing with sustainable materials: Simulation is used to discover new materials for additional, sustainable options for aluminum and plastic packaging to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
- Making critical millisecond-decisions in finance markets: Financial analysts can predict critical stock trends and trade, and even improve risk management, in milliseconds in a fast-paced financial services environment where quick and accurate insight is critical.
- Advancing discovery for drug treatment: Scientists at research labs and pharmaceutical companies can perform complex simulations to understand biological and chemical interactions that can lead to new drug therapies for curing diseases.
- Accelerating oil & gas exploration – Performing simulations, combined with dedicated seismic analytics, can increase discovery and accuracy of oil reservoirs while reducing overall exploration safety risks and costs by identifying when and where to drill for oil.
Optimizing the HPC Experience with a Dedicated HPC Partner Ecosystem
HPE has a robust ecosystem of HPC partners to help enterprises easily deploy solutions for any workload need, in any data center environment. Partners include:
- Colocation Facilities: Customers can free up their own real estate by choosing to deploy their HPC systems and equipment in a colocation facility and use their services remotely through HPE GreenLake. HPE colocation partners for HPC deployments, which provide scalable, energy-efficient data centers, include atNorth (formerly Advania Data Center), CyrusOne and ScaleMatrix.
- Independent Software Vendors (ISV): HPE collaborates with partners, such as Activeeon, Ansys, Core Scientific and TheUberCloud to provide solutions to optimize a range of software application needs from automation, artificial intelligence, analytics and blockchain to computer-aided engineering (CAE) and computer-aided design (CAD) that are critical to improving time-to-market for manufacturing, engineering and product design.
Initial pre-bundled offerings for HPE GreenLake cloud services for high performance computing (HPC) will be generally available in spring of 2021 for customers globally.
HPE plans to expand HPE GreenLake cloud services for HPC to additional technologies, which includes Cray-based compute, software, storage and networking solutions, in the future.
All HPE GreenLake cloud services, including for HPC, are available through HPE’s channel partner program.
Data shows that manufacturers using 3D printing were able to continue normal operations and innovate, while saving time and money.
Industrial 3D printing continues to grow in use and popularity as an important additional manufacturing tool. Curious to see the impact of the technology during the supply chain upheavals of the global pandemic, Markforged conducted a survey of its customers to see what was happening. Here is the report.
Markforged, creator of the Digital Forge, the world’s largest metal and carbon fiber industrial 3D printing platform, has announced the findings of its inaugural annual report, “COVID-19 Impact on Supply Chains: Global Additive Manufacturing Industry Report.” In the report, Markforged details how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted manufacturers worldwide, and how 3D printing has helped them to maintain business continuity and grow amid global disruption.
The report shows that the modern manufacturer – those who adopt digital manufacturing solutions such as 3D printing – were the most resilient, reporting that they’ve been operating “business as usual,” while other manufacturers scaled production back. Key findings include:
- Manufacturers with an industrial 3D printer saved time and money during the pandemic, with 68% indicating that the technology either saved the business “some time” or a “significant amount of time.” Nearly 60% of respondents state that 3D printing has either saved them “some money” or “a significant amount of money.” These time and cost savings not only alleviate immediate, time-sensitive issues for manufacturers, but also result in long-term business value through increased productivity and efficiency.
- Manufacturers that use 3D printing have stayed agile and operational during the pandemic—and found ways to give back. Nearly half (45%) of respondents report that they are operating “business as usual,” and nearly a quarter (24%) have begun producing new products. Survey respondents also report pivoting to print personal protective equipment (PPE). Out of Markforged’s entire customer base, more than 539 used their printers to produce PPE during COVID-19, resulting in more than 5,460 printed parts.
- The pandemic may be a tipping point in manufacturing technology adoption. Many industries are experiencing a forced digital transformation due to pandemic conditions. Manufacturing is no exception, and 3D printing is part of that movement. After seeing the potential of 3D printing over the last several months, 28% of respondents said they are now using 3D printing more compared to pre-pandemic usage. Furthermore, 39% surveyed plan to make future investments in digital manufacturing technologies.
“In an unpredictable world, it’s imperative for organizations to adapt technologies that enable them to remain resilient and flexible ahead of the next disruption,” said Shai Terem, CEO and President, Markforged. “Our research confirms that even during an incredibly uncertain year for manufacturers, those that adopted the Digital Forge have persevered. We’re committed to constantly innovating our industrial 3D printers and software solutions to ensure our customers maintain agility and a competitive advantage, even in the most challenging of times.”
The full industry report is now available for download on Markforged’s website.
This survey was conducted during Q3 2020 (July-September) with data analysis and insights extrapolation conducted in Q4 2020 (October-December). The results of the study are based on responses from more than 600 manufacturing and technology organizations across several countries and continents. While the primary respondents of the study were from Markforged’s customer base, the report also surveyed a sampling of non-Markforged customers to provide deeper analysis.
Markforged transforms manufacturing with 3D metal and carbon fiber printers, capable of producing parts tough enough for the factory floor. Engineers, designers, and manufacturing professionals all over the world rely on Markforged metal and composite printers for tooling, fixtures, functional prototyping, and high-value end-use production. Founded in 2013 and based in Watertown, Massachusetts, Markforged has about 300 employees globally, with $137 million in both strategic and venture capital. Markforged was recently recognized by Forbes in the Next Billion-Dollar Startups list and listed as the #2 fastest-growing hardware company in the US in the 2019 Deloitte Fast 500. To learn more about Markforged, please visit: https://markforged.com.
I have to admit, I’m much less tired than I’ve been this week relative to every other year beginning in 1997 at my first Automation Fair by Rockwell Automation. I sat in on a few Rockwell sessions and even squeezed in a robotic press conference from a different supplier. Busy day.
Bear with me a moment. One of my favorite philosophers is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He was a French Jesuit priest and a paleontologist. In one of his books, he used the metaphor of an ascending spiral to describe the history of evolution. Or, if theology is your hobby, try outlining John’s First Letter (from the Christian New Testament). It won’t come out Roman Numeral I with A, B, C and then Roman Numeral II, etc. That outline will also look like a spiral with each new idea ascending above the earlier one.
The reason I bring this up is that I listened to all the presentations and, with one filter in place, it sounded much like the same words as seven years ago. In fact, many of the ideas could date back 20 years. On the other hand, remove that filter and look at the presentations with a different filter, we see that everything is the same, but at a much higher level.
Each year, both the technologies and business contexts have grown over the year before until you realize that the seven-years-ago-me would not recognize much of the today-me.
The constant theme of several years returned in force this year—Connected Enterprise. And the Connected Enterprise does not work for customers unless the supplier brings partners. Rockwell Automation spokespeople prominently displayed this year’s premier partners—Microsoft, PTC, Emulate3D, Ansys, Kalypso.
Cloud is accepted as commonplace. It’s just one of the gang. Not a lot of discussion of Edge except for a short introduction of Microsoft Azure Edge technologies. Ethernet is now so commonplace that it was not mentioned. However, MES (the manufacturing execution software) received more mentions that a center midfielder in the English Premier League gets touches of the ball. Almost every case study mentioned it.
I went to the Milwaukee headquarters for the first time in the mid-90s for a week-long training class. It was brutal, by the way. But those of us smart enough to wait until we finished homework before we got our beer finished high on the list (I think I was 3rd in my class). One of the features was an automated manufacturing line for the new IEC-style contactors. Guess what? Featured this year was a brand-new automated assembly line making—contactors. It looked pretty good.
The contactor line was part of a Rockwell supply chain tour of plants in the US, Mexico, Singapore, and Poland exhibiting how Rockwell uses its own products plus those of its partners to maintain a robust internal supply chain.
The company has come a long way from the controller and contactor company I knew 30 years ago. They proved to me (not that I don’t have many other questions) that they are serious about the Connected Enterprise. It has progressed up the spiral.
Not to mention, this year I don’t have to travel on my Birthday, which is this week.