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Bosch eyes zero-defect production, €1bn annual savings – with IoT, 5G, AI everywhere

Bosch is on track to deliver “zero-defect production”, the company has said, after announcing an AI system to detect anomalies and malfunctions in manufacturing which is already delivering savings of €2 million per year in a number of test sites, and is to be rolled out to 50 powertrain plants and 800 production lines worldwide in 2021.

All of the company’s 240 factories will be running the new AI system in due course, in combination with IoT and 5G; the company has earmarked €1 billion of savings per year by 2025.

Really, does any other industrial company speak with such freedom and confidence about new digital tech? Did Industry 4.0 ever sound simpler? “AI is an epoch-making technology, comparable to the invention of letterpress. It will revolutionize manufacturing,” commented Michael Bolle, chief technology officer at Bosch, speaking this week at AI CON, the company’s own digital AI conference.

The German outfit is a flag-bearer for this idea of a ‘fourth industrial revolution’, in the home of Industrie 4.0. The firm has been banging the drum on AI and IoT for some time – and pedaling a line about AIoT, no less, since at least the start of the year. Reviewing 2020, last month, it claimed €300 million in new revenue from AI-enabled products, and talked of “opportunities in markets worth billions”, and a strategy to “carve out a position… worth billions”.

It has been talking-up industrial-grade 5G for even longer, as an emblem of Germany’s industrial strategy (and, really, as a ‘national treasure’, expected to take Europe’s economic fight to the world). It was among the first companies in Germany to take up a ‘vertical’ 5G licence; by the end of last year, it had installed a couple of factory 5G networks, and revealed plans to roll out private 5G everywhere else, to all 250 sites.

Which sets a path to establish this holy trinity of new-age digital tech – IoT (sensors), 5G (connectivity), AI (analytics) – across every Bosch site in the world. Which, to mix metaphors, is rather like the industrial equivalent of fielding Salah, Mane, and Firmino every matchday (or whatever fleet-footed three-way strike partnership in whichever over-excitable walk-of-life). At AI CON, Bosch restated that all products will contain AI or be made with AI by 2025.

Bolle said: “The use of AI will make factories more efficient, more productive, more eco-friendly – and will make products even better. Our new AI solution will save plants millions in costs.” The new AI system, developed in-house by the company’s increasingly influential BCAI unit (its centre for AI), is geared to reduce reject parts and improve product quality. In pilots, including at its mobility plant in Hildesheim, the system reduced cycle times by 15 percent.

The AI system runs over the top of Bosch’s Nexeed manufacturing execution system (MES). Sensor data from factory machines goes to determine fluctuations in manufacturing processes, it said; data is translated and visualised, and coded into the AI system to recommend actions. Self-adapting processes for machines and assembly lines can be integrated; field and customer data can be linked, too.

Bosch stated: “If, for example, a drill hole deviates from the defined placement, the AI system independently initiates the necessary steps. At times, the AI system receives support from cameras that are positioned along the production lines and record the manufacturing process. On the basis of patterns it has learned, the system identifies deviations, and action can be taken immediately.”

This new production efficiency has saved these test plants €2 million per year, it reckons. When it is up to speed, at all 250 sites, the system will process (“more than”) a billion data messages every day. It said it is pumping €500 million into bringing “digitalization and connectivity” to its plants, and it expects to save roughly €1 billion per year by 2025, from its combination of IoT, 5G, and AI. It will train 20,000 staff in industrial AI by the end of 2022, it said.

The company quoted various research statistics (reasoned guesswork?): Arthur D. Little calculates more than half of the cost-saving potential from Industry 4.0 in Germany will be with AI-based production (€182 billion); but while more than half of German companies (58 percent) see the disruptive potential of AI, only one in seven (14 percent) are using AI for Industry 4.0, according to Bitkom. EnterpriseIoTInsights

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