Are you using artificial intelligence yet?

Whether you like it or not, artificial intelligence (AI) is upon us in more ways than one. It is beginning to infiltrate virtually, pardon the pun, every facet of our daily lives, faster than most of us thought it would. It is ironic in a sense, as the old saying goes, work smarter, not harder, now really is an prospect for us all, not just a figment of our imagination involving long hours of planning, then implementing. There’s software for that now.

My first real encounter with this new phase of technological advancement was back in 2017, in a foundry, believe it or not. Atlantis Foundries, South Africa’s very own flagship foundry in the Western Cape was at the forefront of embracing this technology. At the time, there were no other foundries doing what they were doing. The layman often just associates foundries with people in protective suits pouring hot, molten metals into shapes. How could AI improve that?

Pieter du Plessis, CEO of Atlantis Foundries, said at the time: “The corner stone of the project is the programme of automation in the foundry. The Fanuc robots installed by Robotic Innovations have become the workhorse to carry instruments that acquire data while handling or performing its operations. All the data collected throughout the process by the robots and the variety of inline instruments will be linked to specific castings. At the end of the process, the entire set of process parameters including operator information will be available for each casting.”

Du Plessis continued: “This process data will be analysed using Artificial Intelligence to predict various aspects of the castings such as material properties and sub-surface defects. Atlantis Foundries have partnered with DataProphet, a Cape Town based Company. The pilot project using Artificial Intelligence aims to predict sub-surface defects currently detected only after machining, and to identify the optimum process parameters to prevent the sub-surface defects occurring in the first place. The current model has a 70% success rate to predict casting defects, based purely on the raw process data. Castings with a high probability of sub-surface defects are identified, and additional inspection and testing is done to prevent the castings from reaching our customers.”

A few short years later, at the GIFA 2019 trade show – the world’s largest foundry show – the attendees from Data Prophet couldn’t get a minute to themselves. The foundry world had taken notice of what they were doing and needed to know about it and how to implement it in their own foundries.

Come the middle of this month, the metalworking community will be gathering in Hannover, Germany, for the most important date in the international trade show calendar for manufacturers and customers – EMO 2023. Not only will we see the latest developments in machining technology, but the theme of AI will surely be present throughout.

Industry is already embracing Industry 5.0 – the embodiment of the concept of humans collaborating with robots and intelligent machines, where robots enhance human productivity and efficiency through the utilisation of cutting-edge technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data.

Dr. Markus Heering, Executive Director at the VDW (Verein Deutscher Werkzeugmaschinenfabrikenn – German Machine Tool Builders’ Association) says: “Under the banner of Innovate Manufacturing we have decided to focus on three megatopics at EMO Hannover this year: The Future of Business, The Future of Connectivity and The Future of Sustainability in Production.”

Expect higher productivity, better precision, higher efficiency and ergonomics as well as reduced downtime and limited emissions and consumption – from material to energy usage and everything in-between.

International trade shows and fairs of this nature only happen every few years and they really are an opportunity for one to see first-hand the state of the industry, as it were, in one place. A chance to educate yourself. They are opportunities to expose yourself to what is new out there, as well as an opportunity to network with colleagues from abroad and from local industry to discuss how to better your business. With the theme of reshoring already a buzzword around the world, use the occasion to not only learn new things, but to really connect with your local colleagues.

If you are not already embracing or planning to implement some kind of AI into your workflow and manufacturing processes, however large or small, prepare to be left behind.

See you there.

Damon Crawford
Online Editor