Over 100 years ago, Henry Ford said, “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” Ensuring quality by meticulously inspecting work and materials was less complicated when Ford produced a single vehicle model in one color — black. Flash forward to 2020: The Ford Motor Company produced 1.7 million vehicles1 across multiple models with dozens of options packages. You can imagine the challenges to “looking” at every facet of the manufacturing process.

That’s one of the reasons why Ford technical experts engaged with IBM to deploy the IBM Maximo Visual Inspection platform, an AI-powered computer-vision solution. The Maximo Visual Inspection platform can help reduce defects and downtime, as well as enable quick action and issue resolution. Ford deployed the solution at several plants and embedded it into multiple inspection points per plant. The goal was to help detect and correct automobile body defects during the production process. These defects are often hard to spot and represent risks to customer satisfaction.

Although computer vision for quality has been around for 30 years, the lightweight and portable nature of our solution — which is based on a standard iPhone and makes use of readily available hardware — really got Ford’s attention. Any of their employees can use the solution, anywhere, even while objects are in motion.

Ford found the system easy to train and deploy, without needing data scientists. The system learned quickly from images of acceptable and defective work, so it was up and running within weeks, and the implementation costs were lower than most alternatives. The ability to deliver AI-enabled automation using an intuitive process, in their plants, with approachable technology, will allow Ford to scale out rapidly to other facilities. Ford immediately saw measurable success in the reduction of defects.

IBM wins the IT Innovation Award from Ford

Voted on by Ford’s technical community leaders, the Ford IT Innovation award is granted once a year to the technology they believe has delivered the greatest breakthrough innovation driving value for the company. This year, Mike Amend, Ford Chief Digital and Information Officer, presented IBM with the award for its Maximo Visual Inspection solution.

In presenting the award, Ford executives said that a discussion with IBM about digital transformation led to discussions about improving quality with AI automation. The Maximo Visual Inspection solution supported Ford’s “no fault forward” initiative with in-station process control and quality remediation at point of installation or assembly. This is exactly the kind of continuous process improvement that is helping Ford lower repair and warranty costs, and improve customer satisfaction, while helping employees play a role in bringing technical innovation to the floor.

“By bringing the power of IBM’s deep AI capabilities, deployable on cost-effective edge infrastructure, and into the cloud to share across our plants, Maximo Visual Inspection has enabled higher quality for our vehicles and our customers. We are expanding in 2022 to additional plants and use cases, including our new electric vehicle plants,” said Scott King, Manager & Principal Technologist – Advanced Manufacturing IT at Ford Motor Company.

The collaboration Ford and my team at IBM on this project was a great experience, allowing us to witness firsthand the potential of Maximo Visual Inspection when deployed by a team of innovators at Ford.  

Our full team at IBM including my co-lead Mal Pattiarachi, as well as our development leaders, Abhi Singh and Carl Bender, are honored that Ford recognized IBM for technical and business excellence. We believe this reflects the IBM values of client dedication, innovation that matters, and personal responsibility. It’s also a direct acknowledgement of the value IBM Maximo Visual Inspection solution provides to our clients. Our Mission is to harness the power of data and AI to derive real-time, predictive business insights that help our clients make intelligent decisions. I’m excited to strengthen our collaboration with Ford as it implements the Maximo Visual Inspection solution in more locations and with more use cases.

Learn about how IBM can help your jumpstart your Industry 4.0 transformation.

 

Mike Hollinger is an IBM Distinguished Engineer, Master Inventor, and the CTO of Vision and Sensor AI/ML and IBM AI Applications

 

1 Based on IHS Markit CYE 2020 US Light Vehicle Production data.

 

 

 

 

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