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Board test and inspection systems

“AI is a long way from becoming mainstream”

Olaf Römer, ATEcare
Olaf Römer, ATEcare: “Unfortunately, the term AI is all too readily exploited for marketing purposes; customers should inform themselves in advance and ask for more details.”
© ATEcare

Many suppliers of inspection systems are promoting the buzzword “Artificial Intelligence”. But is everybody talking about the same thing? Using the example of the Kitov One inspection system, Olaf Römer, Managing Director of the Kitov partner ATEcare, explains how genuine AI differs from “fuzzy AI”.

Markt&Technik: Mr Römer, the buzzwords “artificial intelligence” currently seem to be the marketing tool par excellence in assembly inspection. What do you think is behind it?

Olaf Römer: There is no doubt about it; AI is a future topic with a lot of potential. This can be seen, for example, in speech recognition and image processing. Machines will be instructed verbally in the future, while 3D glasses offer interesting options such as instructing people during the repair a machine. In addition, the first applications for AI are starting to emerge in the field of image recognition. The Kitov One, designed for fully automated visual inspection in end-of-line inspection, also employs AI.

It can, for example, compare a screw under inspection with a huge material library of more than 10,000 different screw types and at the same time take specific specifications into account and learn from error patterns. Furthermore, because the device can also independently take over and save programme optimizations made by a human, it develops a certain intelligence. Conversely, other machines carry out defined processes on the basis of algorithms. These machines record tolerances in order to evaluate them on the basis of predefined measured values. However, pseudo errors must be assessed by humans.

Some development steps are still required here, whereby pure software adaptations should not be considered as AI. Unfortunately, the term AI is all too readily exploited for marketing purposes; customers should inform themselves in advance and ask for details. AI is the future but it is still a long way from becoming mainstream.

Yet you describe the Kitov One as a genuine AI solution. Why?

Customers often ask whether the Kitov has artificial intelligence and whether neural networks are available. But what do these over-used technical terms actually mean in detail? Even companies that deal intensively with this issue, scrutinize algorithms and are familiar with AI, raise the question of how AI should be interpreted. For other tools, there are still no accurate technical terms - I call all of this “fuzzy” AI.

A small scratch on the surface of a component, for example, is impossible to assess automatically because it might affect functionality in one place yet simply be unsightly in another. AI cannot make that judgement. The Kitov, however, is equipped with tools developed in AI laboratories, which is why it is possible to determine exactly which problems can occur where. Moreover, the Kitov can see everything that a human can see, at least as well, and even a little better. When the machine inspects a product, it compares it with a good sample or with stored image files just as a human would. In addition, again like a human, the Kitov independently illuminates a spot until it achieves the best possible contrast. In contrast to an AOI (automated optical inspection) with a static camera, the Kitov can also detect hidden parts. To do this, it moves close to the position to be inspected and examines it from different perspectives.

It compares the image obtained in this way with CAD data, libraries and stored instructions. The device can thus assign categories and inform an operator about any deviation. Moreover, the Kitov learns from humans how to classify the material to be inspected into process indicators such as good, bad or ‘somewhere in between’. The device thus has functions that are recognized as AI. Other devices, however, are equipped with functions that can be classified as clever algorithms, but do not meet the definition of AI.

In which applications is the Kitov One currently being used?

In Germany, the Kitov is now in use in the electronics, automotive, medical and computer technology sectors. In other words, everywhere where high quality is required. For example, one of our customers buys used PCs and servers in order to overhaul them. Here, the Kitov checks to what extent, for example, the keyboards and housings are still usable. Another company uses the Kitov to automate the inspection area at an automobile manufacturer.

In the field of medicine, the AI-based robot inspects tools used for the series production of pills. The pills must be absolutely precisely shaped and fully intact. At the same time, they are produced at considerable speed, which is why the tools are subject to high wear and tear. But the Kitov can also inspect aircraft turbine blades or other intricate products. But it can also be used in mobile applications and therefore inspect large products such as switching cabinets. The range of product areas to be inspected is thus broad.

Nevertheless, German companies often lack the courage to invest in forward-looking technology. If we want to secure the location, we have to take up these new topics and implement such technologies. This also requires a certain willingness to take risks and to evaluate. We have already proven that the necessary investments pay off quickly.

The interview was conducted by Nicole Wörner.

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