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AI provides spark of hope for Japan's steelmakers

Steel News - Published on Fri, 05 Apr 2019

Image Source: Forbes
Mainichi reported that Japanese steelmakers are increasingly putting artificial intelligence to use and streamlining their production with new technology to avoid manufacturing problems. The trend comes amid an increase in trouble stemming from aging equipment built during Japan's postwar period of high economic growth, and the retirement of high numbers of experienced employees that has made it difficult to pass on skills to younger workers.

In March JFE began full-scale operation of an AI response system at all six of its manufacturing bases in Japan. In the event of an electrical fault or other equipment malfunction, AI will identify the issue. Until now, the causes of glitches were pinpointed either by consulting huge user manuals or having experienced engineers conduct investigations. With the new system, the AI can analyze a vast database of previous fault logs to identify the cause. The system can also investigate new issues and suggest steps to resolve problems. JFE Steel President and CEO Yoshihisa Kitano is among those who are keen to see a technological makeover in manufacturing, He said "In improving our competitiveness in the global market, the really important thing for us is applying AI and other cutting-edge technology to our business. The ways in which we apply it to our practices will undergo major changes. Since the system was introduced, the time taken from identification of an issue to its resolution has been reduced by up to 30 to 40 percent in some cases. As JFE has had to contend with problems including blast furnace ventilation issues at three of its production bases since last year, which resulted in a reduction of production, hopes are high that AI will help stabilize operations.”

The Nippon Steel Corp, meanwhile, is using AI in its recognition software at its manufacturing plants. Many images of steel plates of varying shapes, sizes and conditions have been uploaded to the AI system's memory. This is connected to a surveillance feed of the production line. If a steel plate does not appear to conform to a standard, the system will automatically adjust the manufacturing process to fix it. Thanks to this system, employees on the production line have been able to divert their attention to other tasks. Mr Yoshiaki Nakagawa, head of the steelmaker's operational process reform promotion department, sees other potential uses of the technology. He said "We are also investigating whether AI can be used to optimize the company's production planning. For a company that adjusts its products by size, hardness and delivery deadlines to meet customer demand, the ability to optimize planning is directly tied to profitability.”

AI uptake is also spreading outside of the ironworks. Ryo Katayama, the head of planning in the AI advancement division at Kobe Steel Ltd., commented on the technology's flexibility. He said "We had the AI memorize images of difficult welding work that can only be done by hand to abstract the specifics of the task," he said. The company says it has now become possible to utilize AI in robotic welding, and it aims to develop and sell a welding robot for use in factories.”

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Posted By : Rabi Wangkhem on Fri, 05 Apr 2019
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