How smart manufacturers bring Industry 4.0 principles to quality

Quality matters. Many manufacturers will tell you that poor quality affects both the top and bottom line. They will tell you that the consequences of poor quality are on the rise and that social media can make quality issues devastating to an OEM’s brand. They will also tell you that they are struggling to respond. The problem? While the consequences of poor quality are rising, so too are margin pressures. Margin pressures means that budgets are tight and few can respond in traditional ways. Smart manufacturers need to think differently.

Cost of quality is on the rise

Beyond brand impact, poor quality also has a real impact to the bottom line. We must scrap or rework defective products which can eat into overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) measures and lead to plant inefficiency. Challenges only increase once a defective product leaves the factory. Growing supply chain complexity means that products are increasingly costly to find and recall.

Flex – one of the world’s largest electronics makers – estimates that for every $ 1 spent in product creation, they spend $ 100 creating resolutions to quality problems.

Flex on quality for smart manufacturers


That is incredible. Solutions may include tracing root cause analysis to identify problems upstream with raw material inputs or downstream with the manufacturing process. It may also mean going back to product development to understand how product design contributes to quality.

Different industries; different impacts on quality

The implication of poor quality changes depending on the industry. For example, volume matters in the electronics industry. OEMs produce dozens of products per minute which means that a defect in a cell phone casing or circuit board assembly can be replicated hundreds of times before they identify and resolve the issue. That is a lot of potential scrap or rework. Smart electronics OEMs look for solutions that impact inspection speed. They need to quickly identify a quality issue, understand the root cause, and implement a resolution before hundreds of defective units are created.

Automotive companies have a different challenge. Here, OEMs are focused on manufacturing precision. Millimeters matter and a high degree of automation means that poorly calibrated equipment can cause small but meaningful variances. Sometimes these variances can be small – so small that only highly trained human inspectors with sophisticated testing tools can spot the difference. Smart automotive OEMs look for solutions that can help human inspectors identify these very small deviations with more accuracy.

Traditional inspection methods can be costly, slow, ineffective, and sometimes dangerous

Traditional manual inspections can be problematic. Quality inspection is a high-pressure job and the sole reliance on humans without new tools or methods can be slow and ineffective. Humans make mistakes. We get tired and have bad days. We require extensive training to spot defects and retraining to keep pace with new models. All this can hinder agility – a problem which intensified as our labor force ages and retires.

Some OEMs are getting smarter

Increasingly smart OEMs across a range of industries are approaching IBM about ways to get smarter with their quality inspection process. These firms are looking for help bringing technology – specifically machine learning and AI to bear on the problem. Fortunately, IBM has a number of solutions that can help.

Some firms are seeking to better understand the factors that contribute to quality. Have we exceeded quality thresholds? Does temperature or humidity play a role? What about equipment age and maintenance cycles? IBM has a statistical-based solution – called Prescriptive Quality – that dynamically weighs variables that might contribute to issues. This is a great solution when inspectors cannot identify quality based on an image or sound.

One of the hottest areas of interest from OEMs is how AI technology can identify visual or acoustic patterns related to quality defects. Can an image be used to identify a scratch on a cell phone casing or car paint job? Can acoustic sensors “hear” a poorly functioning dishwasher before the product is released from testing? The answers are yes and yes. IBM has two solutions – Visual Insights and Acoustic Insights – that use sophisticated AI to spot defects. What is even more impressive? These solutions can start with a small number of defective images or sounds and can learn over time to get smarter.

Does this mean we don’t need quality inspectors?

It is easy to position many of these AI-based solutions as replacing the jobs of quality inspectors. Yet this is rarely the case. Smart companies see these solutions as tools that help quality inspectors improve throughput and effectiveness. Put simply, technology like Visual Insights or Acoustic Insights help inspectors inspect products more quickly, with fewer misses, and fewer false positives. Rather than replacing inspectors, these technologies become important aids that help OEM respond better to the rising cost of quality without sacrificing margins.

Take the next step

Want to learn more about how IBM views quality and how we can help OEMs address quality challenges?

Learn more about quality management in the era of AI here.

Get more detail on specific quality solutions for your business:





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IoT weekly round-up: Thursday 25th January 2018

This week, we’re delighted that IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty is one of the chairs of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Elsewhere, Facebook and Element AI announce new artificial intelligence endeavours, and GM turns its attentions to autonomous driving tech.

Davos forum chaired entirely by women

This is a big one – the World Economics Forum in Davos, Switzerland will be chaired entirely by women. That’s a first in its 48-year history. We’re absolutely delighted that IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is one of them. Her co-chair is Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Join the conversation on Twitter with the tag #WEF18.

Facebook welcomes new head of AI research

Facebook has hired a new executive to lead its AI research (FAIR) team. Jérôme Pesenti (formerly chief scientist for big data at IBM, so he must be good) will be leading the division’s 130 employees. The plan is to scale up rapidly, doubling the size of its research team in Paris to 100 people by 2022.

Element AI opens London outpost to support its ‘AI for good’ mission

More on AI, as Canadian startup Element AI announces plans to open an outpost in London. Last year, the group raised $ 102 million to launch new artificial intelligence services and systems. One of the new outpost’s focal projects will be ‘AI for good’ – working with charities and NGOs on AI tools to help everyone. Element AI also develops services for finance, manufacturing, robotics and logistics. The initial plan is to recruit around 20 engineers and developers for the London office.

GM launches tech center in Canada for autonomous driving

Automaker GM has opened a new dedicated tech facility in Canada. The Canadian Technical Centre (CTC) will support its work on autonomous vehicles, infotainment and advanced driver assistance features. It will house some 1,000 employees, 700 of whom will be dedicated engineers. The team will be working on technologies that support safe driving (in both cars with drivers and autonomous vehicles), such as lane-keeping.

Apple’s Health Records feature lets you view medical records on your iPhone

Apple have announced a new Health Records section in their Health app, letting you view your medical records on your iPhone. The new feature forms part of iOS 11.3 and is currently in beta testing. Some hospitals and clinics are already partnering with Apple on this new initiative. The idea is to let patients add any CDA (Clinical Document Architecture) file to the Health Data section of the Health app. Johns Hopkins Medicine and Penn Medicine are already testing Health Records with their patients.

Keep up-to-date with the connected world

Bookmark the IoT weekly round-up series page to keep up with what’s going on in the wider world of IoT.

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What is CMMS? Absolutely everything you need to know

Way back when, maintenance records were kept on paper.  People also used to use paper maps for driving directions and walked uphill to school both ways. Thankfully, times have changed and so haven’t the way you manage your maintenance operations. At its core, CMMS is a tool that enables more effective maintenance operations – no more greasy notebooks or spreadsheets. Before we go into too much depth, let’s get back to the basics.

What does CMMS stand for?

CMMS, short for computerized maintenance management system, is exactly what it sounds like.  It is a software program (computerized) that maintains a database (system) of information on the maintenance operations of an organization (maintenance management).  But a CMMS is not simply about data storage. It also improves workflows and generates valuable insights to take your operations to the next level.

This system allows workers to understand what assets need maintenance and where inventory is stored. It also helps management make more informed decisions around how they spend their maintenance dollars and where to allocate their resources. A CMMS also improves your ability to adhere to compliance standards within your industry. It eliminates the complexity of notebooks and spreadsheets by organizing the information you need at your fingertips to have world-class maintenance operations.

CMMS adds value to your organization

To put the value of a CMMS into perspective, consider this scenario. You own one vehicle. It’s not too hard to remember to change the oil every 3 months or keep up with basic maintenance needs.

Now you have five vehicles. Maybe you have a little notebook where you keep track of when each needs an oil change, new wiper blades, an inspection, or a new set of tires. Not too bad as long as you remember to write everything down and keep an eye on things when you drive each vehicle.

Now you have 50 vehicles. That notebook is getting crowded and confusing. Did you remember to write down when vehicle 27 went into the shop for new brake pads? Is vehicle 33 due for an oil change – or is that vehicle 34? Oh boy, you just spilled coffee on your handy notebook. There goes all your notes on vehicles 17-24.

Now you have 500 vehicles. You’re beginning to see the issues that start to arise. If only you had a database where you could easily track all of this information with no risk of it getting lost or misplaced! This is exactly the purpose a CMMS serves. A CMMS helps your business reduce costs associated with maintenance by organizing workflows and giving insight into the status of each asset. This ultimately improves the bottom line of your organization by ensuring all maintenance is performed at the most optimal time.

How did CMMS come to be?

The earliest versions of CMMS systems have been around since the 1960’s but the technology didn’t really hit its stride until the 80’s and 90’s with the emergence of affordable computing and increased network access. As the technology has evolved, so too have its capabilities and the value it can provide.

IBM was at the forefront of the first form of CMMS. In the 1960’s, maintenance technicians would use punch cards with IBM mainframes to handle maintenance tasks. As mainframes evolved into the 1970’s, it enabled organizations to move from using punch cards to paper to feed their CMMS. Maintenance technicians would hand in paper checklists at the end of their shifts for submission into the CMMS.

As computers began to get smaller and more powerful in the 80’s, CMMS technology became more accessible and affordable to small and mid-size organizations. The 1990’s brought customization and the ability to share information across a local-area network (LAN). In the 2000’s, we saw the emergence of the inter-webs, allowing development of CMMS to expand on any internet-connected device. These advancements led to access to billions of individuals.

The latest generation of CMMS is cloud-based and mobile. Having a cloud-based solution has multiple benefits, not the least of which is speedy implementation (in as little as 30 minutes!), easy upgrades, and data security.

Introducing Project Mitchell, our CMMS early adopter program

Currently in beta mode, IBM is launching a new CMMS solution, IBM Maintenance Essentials, to help you optimize your maintenance operations. Built on the IBM Cloud, it is a simple, inexpensive, no-frills approach to reducing the complexity around your maintenance needs.

Ready to take a leap into CMMS? Join our beta . Start a free 30-day trial of IBM Maintenance Essentials and, as an early adopter, you may qualify for an additional six months free once the software is available.


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Understanding the ‘things’ in Internet of Things

Last month I had the incredible pleasure of escaping the winter doldrums of the Northeast and heading to sunny Coconut Grove, Florida for the International Maintenance Conference (IMC).  This annual conference is a must-see event for asset managers, plant managers, and reliability engineers who keep the industrial infrastructure of the world going. One key theme of the event this year was the Internet of Things (IoT). When we talk about the Internet of Things, we can’t forget that ‘things’ are ‘assets’.  This become a common thread at the event, as I’ll explain in more depth later in this post.

IBM Watson IoT had an impressive presence at the show, including sessions, keynotes, and workshops. I spent my time in our solution center where we showcased existing and new technologies for attendees, including Maximo and our Maximo Asset Health Insights  analytics tool, our Predictive Maintenance and Optimization solution, plus our new IoT for Manufacturing plant performance solutions that allow plant managers to monitor the performance of whole facilities.

Showcasing a demo of Maximo Asset Health Insights at IMC

How does the IoT play into my asset management strategy?

We also had an area focused on our IoT platform. This platform simplifies the integration, connectivity, security and cloud storage (generally your whole IoT strategy)  beyond the core capabilities. Almost every attendee that came into our room to talk about their experience with Maximo had two questions:

1) How does the IoT play into my asset management strategy?

2) How does the IoT enable me to get more value from my assets?

And the simple answer I give them is that ‘things are assets.’ Whether it be production machinery, environmental controls, gateway devices, quality control apparatus or IT infrastructure that supports asset intensive industries, all the things that we use to produce products and run facilities, are assets.

How can IoT extend into artificial intelligence?

Clients are focused on how their assets are being connected, instrumented, and measured. Oftentimes, their IoT strategy is still being formulated. I helped them to understand why a “platform” makes a lot of sense in their heterogeneous environments. This led to conversations on security, data management, and the eventual extension of those assets through artificial intelligence.

For a Maximo client – helping them understand the value of an open and extensible platform for connecting their assets is key. By ensuring security, data storage and retrieval, as well as the promise of deeper analytics, left many intrigued.

Use the IoT platform to gain greater value from Maximo

There are a few key ways in which our clients are gaining value from the IoT platform.

1. Integration: Equipment types from various vendors have different ways of pulling and pushing data from them during operation. But they often lack any sort of unified data model, relying on point-to-point connections and simplistic operational metrics. Older equipment may be ideal to instrument with sensors, but defining how and where that data will flow is complex.

2. Information Management: With an IoT platform, we can bring all the data together in one location. This enables quality and reliability processing for that data to ensure high-quality insights. Using pre-configured data storage, and out-of-the-box data models, teams can focus on implementing their strategy. They do this by freeing data to be used across the enterprise and applying analytics at an asset, process or business outcome level.

3. Security: By providing user-based, project-based, role-based or enterprise-level security rules, the IoT allows people to do their jobs and monitor their areas of focus effectively. They do this while keeping assets safe from internal and external issues and threats.

4. AI and Cognitive: Last, but surely not least, is the ability to integrate analytics into your corporate strategy through the IoT. This could be in the form of access to analytics beyond the ability of your data scientists. It could also mean integrating data like weather, market trends, or product usage patterns into your database. An IoT platform provides access to the data and analytics you need to drive new ways of thinking.

 Learn more about innovations with EAM & IoT

Of course, the IoT is just one way to augment your enterprise asset management strategy. There also lies a plethora of use cases that extend EAM using technology to change how we see and act on our assets.

If you couldn’t visit us at IMC this year, I hope you will consider attending next year or learning more about the IoT platform and how the IoT helps to extend operations through capabilities like enterprise asset management.


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Tech that cares: CES 2018

At the world’s biggest gadget show, there were a few projects that stood out for me. Not because they were the biggest, baddest or even the most brightly-coloured, but because they offered simple, practical solutions for those who need them most. This is technology that addresses the realities of disability, improves quality of life, and promises accessibility for all. Here’s a quick round-up of the tech that cares, as seen at CES 2018.

#Accessible Olli

We were delighted to welcome self-driving shuttle bus Olli back to CES. This year, he has a new and exciting mission: ‘Autonomous for all of us’. The #Accessible Olli project is something we’re very proud of at IBM. It’s the culmination of a crowd-sourced effort to help those with mobility difficulties get around more easily.

IBM joined the Consumer Technology Association Foundation, Local Motors and innovators all over the world to develop an autonomous solution to transportation. The result could be life-changing for the 15 percent of us who are living with disabilities. And when you consider that this figure rises to 25 percent for those aged 50 and over, the possibilities are even further-reaching. This blog has the full story.

Accessible Olli, as seen at CES 2018

#AccessibleOlli on the Las Vegas Convention Center floor at this year’s CES

Xenoma e-skin pajamas

Japanese smart apparel firm Xenoma displayed a prototype pair of smart ‘e-skin pajamas’ for hospital patients at CES. The main focus is on dementia patients, who need close observation but might be understandably distressed by being the focus of constant attention, or worse, confined to their rooms. Instead, these pajamas can do part of the observation work themselves.

They’re fitted with cloth sensors, customized to interpret specific feedback in order to monitor movement and vital signs. For example, those on the trouser hips and legs are motion-sensors, while sensors on the shirt monitor breathing. If a patient is distressed, unmoving or agitated, the pajama sensors will relay that information to hospital personnel.

Most importantly, the sensors are unobtrusive, and don’t negatively impact the wearer’s comfort. They can also survive a washing machine, making them more or less as hardy as regular clothing. They’re not in general use yet, though there’s a clinical trial planned with a (unannounced) hospital in Germany.

UV Sense: the false fingernail that detects sun damage

Also on show was a rather interesting offering from L’Oréal: the UV Sense. This diminutive UV sensor is small enough to wear on a fingernail, and connects to a smartphone through contactless chip. It detects ultra violet rays and sends an alert to the wearer’s smartphone when they’ve been out in the sun for too long.

A similar product, in the form of a patch, has already had positive results. The company reported that 34 percent of those who wore the patch applied sunscreen more frequently than they would have done without it. The UV Sense should be available in the UK in 2019, priced at £30 (around $ 40.)

UV Sense

UV Sense: Photo courtesy of

SignAll: the world’s first automated sign language translator

This is one of my favourites: an automated sign language translation solution from SignAll, that bridges the communication gap between deaf and hearing people. It uses computer vision and Natural Language Processing to track hand gestures, and convert them to English text displayed onscreen. The cool thing about this solution is that is doesn’t require expensive, fancy hardware. Ordinary web cams and a bog-standard PC will do, though you will need a depth sensor too. The depth sensor goes in front of the person signing at chest height, while cameras surround them. They all sync up to a PC that processes the images taken from different angles to produce a translation in close to real time.

The Internet of Caring Things: beyond CES 2018

Of course, CES 2018 isn’t the only place to find caring technology initiatives. At IBM we’re always looking for ways to improve people’s quality of life with the help of technology. Recently, we’ve been investigating how the Internet of Things can aid an aging population. Take a look at this piece to discover more.

Another example of IBM’s work in healthcare is our research with Melanoma Institute Australia. Together, we’re using cognitive technology to analyse dermatological images of skin, to identify specific clinical patterns in the early stages of melanoma. We hope that this important work will help clinicians understand skin cancer better and reduce unnecessary biopsies. You can read more about this ongoing effort in our press release, or visit our website to learn about our wider work in healthcare.

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