UofSC, IBM visual inspection demo showcases future of manufacturing

After partnering to bring cutting-edge visual inspection technology to the world-famous annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the University of South Carolina and IBM will now bring clients from around the globe to Columbia to see the latest in advanced manufacturing technology.

The visual inspection demonstration featured at the CES earlier this month pairs robots with IBM Watson artificial intelligence and Apple devices to detect defects in the automotive manufacturing process. Cameras mounted on a Yaskawa Motoman robot are connected to the Watson platform and through visual inspection, minor defects imperceptible to the human eye can be quickly identified. The demo allows for the visual inspection algorithms to be loaded into any iOS device, offering manufacturing customers an off-the-shelf solution.

The technology was originally developed by UofSC researchers using thousands of uploaded photographs of automotive parts provided by BMW and Harley-Davidson – steering wheel mounts, car doors, quarter fairings, and saddlebag lids—and matches those with newly-manufactured products. The robot’s visual inspection is analyzed by the IBM software and defective pieces are quickly identified and discarded, saving manufactures both time and money. The technology has far-reaching applications beyond the automotive industry and can be used in almost any manufacturing process where precision is a must.

“The new visual inspection demonstration is just one example of how innovative research developed at the University of South Carolina is being applied to make advanced manufacturing more efficient,” said Bill Kirkland, executive director of UofSC’s Office of Economic Engagement. “One of the things that makes our university truly unique is the ability to match talented students and top researchers to solutions that help companies stay competitive in the marketplace. The value we’re adding to advanced manufacturing, health care, aerospace and data analytics furthers our educational mission and also helps grow industries that are critical to the state’s economic future.”

The technology will take up residence as a demo this month at UofSC’s McNAIR Center’s Digital Transformation Lab in Columbia. It will allow UofSC students, researchers, automotive companies and other advanced manufacturers access to a state-of-the-art application that can be critical to the state’s growing manufacturing sector.  It will also serve the dual-purpose of attracting visitors from automotive companies and other manufacturers eager to identify process issues in real time.

As the nation’s fifth fastest-growing manufacturing state, South Carolina is home to major assembly plants and a robust network of suppliers and original equipment manufacturers.  By developing solutions like the visual inspection application, UofSC offers local companies – both large and small – a place to try new methodologies to meet market needs.  And with access to the latest real-world manufacturing technologies, UofSC students acquire the skills and experience needed to land great job opportunities.

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