Playing spot the difference with Artificial Intelligence

5G factory

If you’re reading this blog, the chances are you’re well aware of 5G and the potential it offers to deliver greater storage capacity, faster download speeds, reduced latency and greater connectivity of multiple devices on public and private networks.

Our seminal work as part of the DCMS 5G Testbed and Trials (5GTT) programme identified that 5G networks could enable productivity savings of 2% for manufacturing businesses – that’s equivalent to £2.6bn when extrapolated across the whole of the UK, and some would say that’s a conservative view – but one of the most frequent questions we hear when talking about 5G’s potential is:

‘That’s great, but what does it mean for MY business?’

It’s a fair point and one reason that helping manufacturers identify use cases where 5G could make tangible benefits to their business is a key service offered by nexGworx.

One company taking full advantage of the opportunity to explore this further through the 5GTT programme is AE Aerospace – a Birmingham-based machine-to-print subcontractor of precision machined components for the aerospace, defence and marine industries. AE Aerospace is working with ourselves, WM5G and FitFactory to explore their concept of a ‘glass factory’ – trialling transparent working practices that would allow customers and suppliers to work directly with them to improve efficiency across the board.

Three use cases were identified and developed, including:

  1. Using a private 5G network to plan production, collecting and monitoring performance data in real time to optimise production and create a new ‘capacity availability’ model
  2. Using sensors to locate and ensure gauges are correctly calibrated
  3. Product quality and inspection

Connectivity, security and data accuracy are key to all three use cases but the 5G network really comes into its own allowing large data files to be stored, accessed and shared quickly and easily to enable artificial intelligence (AI)-led quality inspection of components.

The parts AE Aerospace produces have to be manufactured to exacting standards, with the quality of surface finishes being particularly important. Traditionally, quality inspection has been carried out in person but two people may easily interpret quality requirements slightly differently depending on their understanding of the requirements and even their mood on the day.

The aim of the product quality and inspection trial is to remove the opportunity for ‘human error’ from the inspection process.

During the trial, a digital camera provided by Vision Intelligence has been installed onto a tracking system that allows it to move in and out, up and down, left and right to take multiple photos of each component being inspected. 5-600 very small but highly-detailed images are taken of each component and then stitched together using specialist software to create a full 360 degree image of the component. Over the course of the trial, AI software monitors what a good or faulty part looks like, what level of ‘fault’ is acceptable within the parameters of the component specification and even where certain faults are acceptable or unacceptable on a given part. Images are saved before components leave for the subcontractors and assessed either before being returned or on receipt – essentially allowing AI to play ‘spot the difference’ between the images to identify potential issues prior to onward despatch to the customer.

Storing images upwards of 3GB per component creates its own challenge and without the greater storage and data processing capacity offered by a 5G network, expanding the programme to a commercial scale would not be possible. Now the trials are targeted on demonstrating that automating the process significantly reduces errors, providing certainty, repeatability and traceability for AE Aerospace’s customers and improving the efficiency of the whole process.

“I’m proud and pleased to be on the vanguard of this and taking a lead… Get the experts to help you. This is actually quite technical and there’s a lot going on…With the help of WM5G, Worcestershire5G (now nexGworx), BT and Ericsson, we’ve suddenly gained a level of knowledge and support that we couldn’t have done without.”

Ian Bouquet-Taylor, operations director at AE Aerospace: