Jun 25, 2021

Google’s Visual Inspection AI Helps Eliminate Defects

3 min
Google’s first manufacturing-specific platform will automate product inspections to reduce the cost of human error

Google just announced the launch of its Visual Inspection AI, a Google Cloud Platform (GCP) that will help manufacturers and consumer goods companies cut down on defects. Defects cost manufacturers billions of dollars each year, eating up 15% to 20% of overall sales revenue. Furthermore, 23% of all unexpected manufacturing downtime costs result from human error. Yet according to McKinsey and the World Economic Forum, Industry 4.0—the automation of manufacturing processes—could create US$3.7tn of value in 2025

How Does Google’s AI Work? 

As Dominik Wee, GCP’s managing director of manufacturing and industrial operations, explained, Google’s Visual Inspection solution will tackle two use cases: detecting cosmetic defects and inspecting product assembly. ‘We’re seeing a lot more demand, and I think it’s because we’re getting to a point where AI is becoming really widespread’, she said. Now, with the help of computer vision technology, line managers can correct defects prior to shipping products—which will improve output, increase yields, and slash return costs.

Which Companies Will Compete?  

To no one’s surprise, Amazon is also pioneering manufacturing vision technology. After all, it’s now a massive market. Oxford Economics expects China to automate 12.5 million manufacturing jobs, and McKinsey and Co. expect the US to follow suit, automating at least 30% of its manufacturing jobs in the near future. 


To keep up, Amazon launched its Lookout for Vision solution, which in many ways mirrors Google’s version. It analyses images for defects, zeroes in on cracks and dents, and catches irregular colours and shapes. Several major organisations, such as GE Healthcare, Basler, and Dafgards, have already chosen Amazon’s solution, and the company will no doubt expand further into the field. 


Yet Google will fight for its share of the market. Since GCP launched its Visual Inspection AI, Renault, Foxconn, and Kyocera have signed up for its services. In addition, Google’s track record and influence in the tech industry may well sway some previous Amazon partners to follow suit. For those who want rapid results, Google’s new programme is already well off the ground. Said Wee: ‘Renault is already monitoring paint defects in real time’.


What Makes Google’s Solution Stand Out? 

In contrast to general-purpose machine learning platforms, GCP’s Visual Inspection AI is efficient and effective. It’s able to build models with 300 times fewer human-labelled images—sometimes as few as 10. Additionally, machine learning will increase the platform’s accuracy over time. This will help manufacturers optimise their supply chains, mitigate quality risks, and manage product inventories. ‘It basically gives you ease of deployment and the peace of mind to be able to run it on the shop floor’, Wee explained. 


And there’s no time like the present. In a 2020 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, manufacturing companies reported that over the next five years, they expect digital transformation to make their operations markedly more efficient. In this, as in many recent tech initiatives, Google intends to lead the charge. As Wee put it: ‘We’re trying to get the capability of AI at scale into the hands of manufacturers’. 


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Jul 30, 2021

First Solar to Invest US$684mn in Indian Energy Sector

Elise Leise
3 min
First Solar will launch an advanced PV manufacturing plant in Tamil Nadu to support Indian solar independence

First Solar is about to set up a new photovoltaic (PV) thin-film solar manufacturing facility in Tamil Nadu, India. The 3.3GW factory will create 1,000 skilled jobs and is expected to launch its operations in Q3 of 2023. According to the company, India needs 25+ gigawatts of solar energy to be deployed each year for the next nine years. This means that many of First Solar’s Indian clients will jump at the chance to have access to the company’s advanced PV. 


Said Mark Widmar, First Solar’s CEO: ‘India is an attractive market for First Solar not simply because our module technology is advantageous in its hot, humid climate. It’s an inherently sustainable market, underpinned by a growing economy and appetite for energy’. 

A Bit of Background 

First Solar is a leading global provider of photovoltaic systems. It uses advanced technology to generate clear, reliable energy around the world. And even though it’s headquartered in the US, the company has invested in storage facilities around the world. It displaced energy requirements for a desalination plant in Australia, launched a source of reliable energy in the Middle East (Dubai, UAE), and deployed over 4.5GW of energy across Europe with its First Solar modules


The company is also known for its solar innovation, reporting that it sees gains in efficiency three times faster than multi-crystalline silicon technology. First Solar holds world records in thin-film cell conversion efficiency (22.1%) and module conversion efficiency (18.2%). Finally, it helps its partners develop, finance, design, construct, and operate PV power plants—which is exactly what we’re talking about. 

How Will The Tamil Nadu Plant Work?

Tamil Nadu will use the same manufacturing template as First Solar’s new Ohio factory. According to the Times of India, the factory will combine skilled workers, artificial intelligence, machine-to-machine communication, and IoT connectivity. In addition, its operations will adhere to First Solar’s Responsible Sourcing Solar Principles, produce modules with a 2.5x lower carbon footprint, and help India become energy-independent. Said Widmar: ‘Our advanced PV module will be made in India, for India’. 


After all, we must mention that part of First Solar’s motivation in Tamil Nadu is to ensure that India doesn’t rely on Chinese solar. ‘India stands apart in the decisiveness of its response to China’s strategy of state-subsidised global dominance of the crystalline silicon supply chain’, Widmar explained. ‘That’s precisely the kind of level playing field needed for non-Chinese solar manufacturers to compete on their own merits’. 


According to First Solar, India’s model should be a template for like-minded nations. Widmar added: ‘We’re pleased to support the sustainable energy ambitions of a major US ally in the Asia-Pacific region—with American-designed solar technology’. To sum up: Indian solar power is yet the next development in the China-US trade war. Let the PV manufacturing begin. 


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