Omron to release ground-breaking AI-equipped controller

Omron Corporation has announced the development of a range of artificial intelligence (AI)-equipped technologies which will be incorporated into its factory automation (FA) equipment.

One of the areas AI-equipped automation controllers can help improve is predictive maintenance, vital in raising productivity – image courtesy of Omron Corporation.
One of the areas AI-equipped automation controllers can help improve is predictive maintenance, vital in raising productivity – image courtesy of Omron Corporation.

According to Omron, the equipment has been developed to address challenges such as the cost of rising labour and shortages in the number of skilled engineer globally. Omron has successfully developed machinery with AI-equipped learning algorithms to mitigate the knowledge and intuition lost to a company when its engineers retire.

The AI-equipped controller is reportedly the first of its kind and achieves real-time integration between the programmable logic controller (PLC) function, which controls production lines and equipment changing on factory floors, and the AI processing function.

Sample AI automation controllers have already been placed with customers, with demonstrations having taken place at both Omron’s own sites and its customers since 2016.

The embedded AI has been designed to learn the movements of machinery operating in casual – or optimum – mode in order to predict unusual movements. When used in conjunction with Omron’s comprehensive range of sensors, the controller safety monitor regulates the status of the equipment and processes, and acts to prevent future irregularities.

There is a growing call for the development and introduction of AI and Internet of Things (IoT) related technologies  on production floors, alongside the need for efficient and flexible small-lot production with zero defect, lights-out models of working.

Companies can often struggle to achive the optimum benefits of small-lot production processes because they require skilled engineers to develop machines for specific needs, and operate them in a real-world setting.

European industry marketing manager for Omron, Robert Brooks explained: “We are excited about the potential for our customers to improve their operations with AI. The possibilities are vast, but in particular improving the productivity of the plant in terms of predictive maintenance is an interesting area for investigation”.

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Rapid developments in sensor and digital technology means companies are amassing huge volumes of data.

The AI controller allows manufacturers to contain the impact of skilled worker shortages and surging labour costs, while simultaneously increasing equipment utilisation and achieving stable production of quality products.

The technology also allows data to be extracted from manufacturing sites where the control process is performed, at high-speed and high-precision. Being able to manage and exploit data allows the AI controller prediction capabilities of possible machine errors, and therefore work to prevent equipment stoppage, and deterioration of production quality.

Rapid developments in sensor and digital technology means companies are amassing huge volumes of data. Yet, difficulties arise when trying to upload such a volume to the cloud for AI analysis. Production floors require instantaneous responses to equipment issues to work effectively. However, backed-up data from the cloud can still cause response delays.

Omron has developed a solution and is introducing ‘intelligence developed through ITC’. The process incorporates the knowledge of skilled engineers right into the control centre of the equipment. This is achieved by utilising a wide range of factory automotion equipment with IoT-capable production, or implemented AI algorithms. Having been developed with this concept, an AI controller can detect usual signs of equipment irregularity and respond appropriately.

Omron will reportedly continue to use the technology itself to assist in the implementation of the products and assess their effectiveness. It is also working to develop higher quality controllers, sensors and other AI products in the near future.