Helping machines learn how to learn with artificial intelligence
by Dagmar Dieterle
Jens Ottnad and his team coordinate artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning projects at TRUMPF. In this interview, he explains how AI optimizes manufacturing and why it is not going to replace humans.
marketSTEEL: The term “artificial intelligence” is open to interpretation. What does it mean at TRUMPF?
Ottnad: AI is the next evolutionary stage in Industry 4.0. It executes tasks independently that have been described in abstract terms. It does that on the basis of data, and without people having to program the individual steps. Artificial intelligence spots patterns in data or processes that would otherwise have not been discovered, or only with tremendous effort.
marketSTEEL: And there’s real potential in that?
Ottnad: Obviously we can also collect and evaluate data and machine status information without AI. This service is already available to our customers, for example, in the form of apps that provide information about tool or machine operation. AI enters the picture when we’re talking about complex issues that we would be unable to interpret without computer-assisted analysis. AI affords us new opportunities to advance complex technical systems and thereby create solutions that were previously inconceivable. That’s how we hope to give our customers a competitive edge.
marketSTEEL: So, AI optimizes production?
Ottnad: Exactly. It helps us make manufacturing more efficient, keep products competitive in the future, and assure product quality.
marketSTEEL: How long has TRUMPF been looking into AI?
Ottnad: Some of my colleagues have no doubt been exploring this topic for much longer, but TRUMPF has redoubled its focus on AI in the past three or four years. Ever since, we’ve been working hard to collect the data we need to develop algorithms – for quality assurance, for example.
marketSTEEL: So how many people are working on this?
Ottnad: A group of developers is keeping up an ongoing dialog about AI algorithms. However, algorithms alone do not make a product, so we’re now also seeing many other colleagues at TRUMPF crossing paths with the topic of AI.
marketSTEEL: In what ways are TRUMPF and its customers actually going to benefit from AI?
Ottnad: We’re working on AI solutions for our production lines and for products that we offer to our customers. For example, we’re developing an AI solution that customers can use for quality assurance. It monitors the welds of thick copper wires used in electric motors. We’re also developing an AI solution for our fully automatic TruLaser Center 7030 laser system. It will analyze how the machine removes sheet-metal parts and help it remove parts with very diverse shapes even faster and more reliably.
marketSTEEL: Can AI do without humans?
Ottnad: AI supports people in their tasks. Humans define what these tasks will be. That’s why we won’t be seeing any artificial intelligence without human intelligence. With the benefit of AI, people are going to be able to take on tasks of greater value. For example, humans will be able to focus on planning and monitoring processes. The burden of routine tasks that are strenuous and monotonous will be lifted. Take, for example, our fully automatic laser system: The operator doesn’t have to worry about the machine removing the parts from the sheet metal in a reliable way.
The high-technology company TRUMPF offers production solutions in the machine tool and laser sectors. It is driving digital connectivity in manufacturing industry through consulting, platform and software offers. TRUMPF is the world technological and market leader for machine tools used in flexible sheet metal processing, and also for industrial lasers.
In 2018/19 the company – which has about 14,500 employees – achieved sales of 3.8 billion euros. With over 70 subsidiaries, the TRUMPF Group is represented in nearly all the countries of Europe, North and South America, and Asia. It has production facilities in Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, the Czech Republic, the USA, Mexico, China and Japan.
For more information about TRUMPF go to www.trumpf.com