The BMW plant in Steyr, Austria, is the BMW Group’s largest engine plant worldwide. At the facility, the top priorities are quality, efficiency and the transformation to Industry 4.0 through the implementation of digital technologies at shop floor level. To improve all three, plant managers embraced Autonomous Machine Vision, a new category of machine vision for quality inspection developed by German-Israeli company Inspekto.
In line with BMW’s mission to improve production processes using digitalisation, the Steyr plant has several state-of-the-art machine vision solutions in place to inspect the quality of its engines.
However, even the most sophisticated traditional machine vision solutions suffer from pseudo-errors, where the solution flags a defect in components that were actually made to specification. Pseudo-defects create an extra and unnecessary loop in production, since flagged items need be rechecked manually.
“The most problematic issue is that with increasing pseudo-defect rates, employees at the repair station could let their guard down and assume that an actually defected item is good,” explained David Bricher, PhD candidate and expert in innovation and digitalisation at BMW. “BMW is not willing to compromise on quality and we want to prevent this scenario at all costs.”
BMW is a strong believer in bringing AI-based technologies to the shop floor, so plant managers were on the lookout for an intuitive quality assurance technology.
“The BMW Start-Up Garage helps us find new companies with ground-breaking ideas to improve our processes with digitalisation,” said Bricher. “The team researched several companies with innovative machine vision solutions, but only Inspekto offered exactly what we were looking for - a system that is so intuitive that any employee can set it up.”
“Our INSPEKTO S70 is a self-contained product,” explained Harel Boren, CEO and Co-founder of Inspekto. “It is self-learning, self-setting and self-adjusting - in other words, fully autonomous. This eliminates the lengthy and complex integration phases that characterise traditional machine vision projects.”
Convinced by the capabilities of the INSPEKTO S70, BMW Group Plant Steyr purchased four systems and started a pilot phase to check their suitability for complex applications. Following its success, the systems are now operational in two different use cases - a connector with many small, hardly visible components and a fuel pipe. In both cases, the plant has noticed an improvement in quality and a noticeable reduction of false detection instances.
“One of the most interesting characteristics of the INSPEKTO S70 is its ease of installation,” confirmed Bricher. “At BMW one of our main targets is to bring the potential of AI closer to the production field. We have to get rid of the mystique that surrounds the technology - people have to be able to say: I work with AI.”
This philosophy mirrors Inspekto’s mission to democratise machine vision. With the INSPEKTO S70, the user simply switches on the controller and ensures that the field of view (FOV) covers the location to be inspected. The user then presents an average of 20 to 30 good items to the system, which will automatically learn their characteristics.
The INSPEKTO S70 knows when it has enough information about a product and informs the user that inspection can start. Anything that is different from the memorised characteristics, will be flagged as an anomaly.
“Typically, machine vision solutions require a long training process, during which they are exposed to hundreds of defective parts. But in a manufacturing environment dedicated to the highest levels of quality, we don’t have that many defective parts available,” explained Bricher. “The INSPEKTO S70 only needs good parts, which is a huge advantage.”
The benefits of Autonomous Machine Vision are already visible at BMW Steyr. “By eliminating pseudo-defects, the system has allowed us to avoid the extra loop of manual double-checks. But the more important thing for me is that with the INSPEKTO S70 we have brought AI closer to our production employees. In this sense, BMW and Inspekto have a shared vision.”