Swiss robotics and automation company ABB has announced a partnership with the artificial intelligence (AI) experts at IBM Watson.
The ‘strategic collaboration’ will combine ABB’s digital offering, ABB Ability – a tool for gathering data from industrial IoT devices – with the AI and machine learning capabilities of IBM Watson IoT.
By combining these strengths, the companies claim, they will be able to offer industrial players a product to address some of the burning challenges in IIoT. These include improving quality control, reducing downtime and increasing speed and yield of industrial processes.
“This powerful combination marks truly the next level of industrial technology, moving beyond current connected systems that simply gather data, to industrial operations and machines that use data to sense, analyze, optimize and take actions that drive greater uptime, speed and yield for industrial customers,” said ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer in a press release.
ABB and IBM gave the example of how their combined technology might improve inspections on a production line, a process that is typically manual and can therefore be slow and error-prone.
Watson’s AI capabilities might, for instance, be used to help find defects, via real-time production images captured through an ABB system and then analyzed using IBM Watson IoT for Manufacturing.
As parts flow through the manufacturing process, the system would alert the manufacturer to critical faults not visible to the human eye in the quality of an assembly, enabling quicker intervention from the quality control team.
Another example applies to the smart grid, where supply patterns of electricity are difficult to predict, due to the need to analyze demand along with historical performance and weather data. There is also the added complication of balancing conventional systems with supplementary electricity generated from renewable sources.
To aid utilities with their operations, the companies say their system could combine forecasts of temperature, sunshine and wind speed to predict consumption demand, which would determine the requisite supply as well as assisting with real-time pricing.
Where OT meets IT
Ginni Rometty, IBM chairman, president and CEO, suggested that the “data generated from industrial companies’ products, facilities and systems holds the promise of exponential advances in innovation, efficiency and safety.
“This important collaboration with ABB will take Watson even deeper into industrial applications – from manufacturing, to utilities, to transportation and more.”
Commenting on the deal, Ian Hughes, an IoT analyst at market research company 451 Research, told Internet of Business that “partnerships and cross-industry consortia are the order of the day for industrial IoT”, because operational technology (OT) companies such as ABB are liberating data from their machinery, while IT companies such as IBM have experience of dealing with such data.
“High-end analytics and artificial intelligence from IT is something that marries well with OT experience in the field and marks the boundary of the often discussed IT/OT clash brought by IIoT, with a more clearly defined boundary for each side.”
This marks the latest push into the IoT space for ABB, which, according to Reuters, now derives more than half (55 percent) of its annual sales (with totalled almost $34 billion in 2016) from digitally-enabled products.
Last year, the company teamed up with Microsoft to provide its digital offerings to customers across numerous sectors including robotics, electric vehicles and renewable energy.