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Researchers Seek to Apply Cognitive Sensors to Supply and Production Chains

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Posted February 15, 2018

In the test and application center L.I.N.K. at Fraunhofer IIS in Nuremberg, researchers are testing cognitive sensor systems with localization and networking technology. Image credit: Fraunhofer IIS

Currently, most retailers stock mass-produced goods. Typically, they analyze data to examine trends that suggest how in-demand a certain item is, or whether a particular region of the country might sell out of a product more quickly than another.

However, researchers are making substantial process with developing cognitive sensors for use in the supply and production chains, allowing more flexibility in the marketplace.

Scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS will demonstrate their findings at Hannover Messe — one of the largest trade fairs in the world — this April to show how the technologies they work with could speed up the engine assembly process during manufacturing.

Recently, the researchers showcased their efforts at the Hannover Messe preview event, too.

A Pilot Project at BMW

One of the primary functions of a cognitive sensor is to record measurements. Furthermore, sensors can also evaluate if those measurements are correct, then provide notifications if they aren’t.

Such precision is especially crucial when developing products that could threaten public safety if assembled incorrectly. Also, detecting mistakes early in the supply chain, as opposed to later, lets plant managers take proactive approaches and boost productivity.

Before debuting this more recent research, a team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS launched a pilot project at a BMW plant involving a screwdriver enhanced with a cognitive sensor.

It increases high-quality results on the production line by receiving information about an order in progress, then monitoring the way a technician uses the screwdriver to make sure the work meets specifications.

When it does, an LED signal tells the technician he or she can move on to the next component in the line. In addition to improving quality control, the instant feedback helps technicians know when they’re performing well.

Containers That Sense the Contents Inside

A busy industrial facility might use thousands of parts to assemble an item. If the available supplies of those components run low or get entirely depleted, dozens of processes might get thrown off track.

Besides cognitive sensors attached to tools, engineers at Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS developed intelligent containers that know how long it’ll be before they’re empty, and can even order replenishments autonomously.

Modern analytics software suites collect data related to every link in the supply chain. When managers remain aware of stock levels and other in-house statistics, it becomes easier to make smarter, data-driven decisions and confidently communicate with third-party vendors.

Wireless sensors can generate data about a container’s location, too. As such, they use lights or similar cues to aid human workers in retrieving supplies in gigantic warehouses without unnecessary delays.

Incorporating Shelf Life Data Into Supply Chain Decisions

Additional research has also investigated the use of sensors to determine the shelf life of perishable products. Conventional processes assume all items receive uniform handling, and that’s not always the case.

Sensors could determine things like whether a shipment of fruit was stored outside the optimal temperature range for too long, making it more necessary to sell the items as quickly as possible to avoid waste.

Some reductions in quality are invisible to human eyes, but cognitive sensors are useful for keeping suppliers and other parties aware of product condition specifics.

In some cases, a logistics company might review data collected by cognitive sensors and decide to make route changes. Then, items arrive at their destinations in sellable condition.

There are also cognitive sensors that pick up on characteristics that could indicate food is not fit to eat. By relying on those, food production plants could theoretically avoid product recalls or other complications due to reports of customer illnesses linked to certain consumables.

This overview of the use of cognitive sensors in the production and supply chains gives an exciting glimpse into how technology is helping facilities understand how to keep efficiency levels high, maintain excellent quality and avoid slowdowns.

As research progresses, more impressive developments are likely. Those, too, could permanently alter how companies operate and employees perform tasks.

Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes.

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