Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Monday, June 24, 2024

Watson Deal Targets Industrial Apps 

(Source: Shutterstock/branislavpudar)

Artificial intelligence will hit the factory floor and the smart grid as an automation specialist joins forces with IBM Watson to being real-time decision-making to those and other industrial applications.

IBM (NYSE: IBM) said Tuesday (April 25) it would partner with Swiss industrial automation specialist ABB (ABBN: SIX Swiss Ex) to deliver AI and machine learning tools for factory automation and power grids. The cognitive tools will be based on Watson Internet of Things capabilities along with ABB's automation platform dubbed Ability.

The Swiss company operates in more than 100 countries, and rolled out its industrial automation platform in March.

The partners said the combination of the Ability platform and Watson would extend factory automation from connected systems that merely gather data to smart shop floors and grids that analyze data to reduce downtime or gauge energy demand.

AI would be used, for example, to help find manufacturing defects via real-time production images captured by the ABB system. The capability would replace visual inspections that often miss defects in parts or manufactured items. The system would then alert quality control workers who could spot problems without having to stop a production line.

The partners also said they would apply the cognitive tools to emerging smart grids by leveraging Watson's ability to predict electricity supply and demand based on weather and historical data. Weather forecasts would be used to predict consumption demand, helping utilities determine optimal load management as well as real-time pricing.

IBM's 2015 acquisition of the Weather Company gave it a huge trove of weather data that in combination with its Watson cognitive and analytics platform is being used to create new business intelligence use cases.

Earlier this year, IBM and Vermont Electric Power Co. announced an energy startup designed to bring cloud-based analytics to the smart grid to forecast renewable energy supplies along with monitoring grid health.

Meanwhile, the ABB-IBM partnership also underscores how industrial automation is at the leading edge of IoT deployments as manufacturers pursue a "Fourth Industrial Revolution" that augments robotics with machine intelligence and data analytics capabilities.

Along with improving quality control and reducing factory downtime, the partners said the cognitive tools could be used to increase the speed and yield of manufacturing processes. "The data generated from industrial companies' products, facilities and systems holds the promise of exponential advances in innovation, efficiency and safety," IBM CEO Ginni Rometty noted in a statement announcing the partnership.

The deal also confirms earlier IoT forecasts about the industrial and energy sectors being the first to harness cloud and datacenter infrastructure. For example, market watcher IHS noted two years ago that IoT deployments were mostly islands of connectivity that lacked links to the outside world.

Anticipating deals such as the IBM Watson-ABB industrial automation partnership, the market watcher called data analytics a "long-term play" as the IoT morphs into the Internet of Everything.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).