Elevating Visual Inspection With AI and AR

PTC's AI and AR solutions help companies meet today's visual inspection challenges with state-of-the-art technology.

What is visual inspection and why is it important?

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"Visual inspection” is a common inspection technique for identifying defects by using only the naked eye. Even with advancements in workplace automation, this crucial decision is reserved for human judgement. However, growing product complexity and consumer demands, tightening regulations, and competition from emerging markets make ensuring quality increasingly difficult for employees—especially when those people aren’t given additional support.

AI-Enhanced Inspection

Three challenges of traditional visual inspection

Time-consuming

Everything can be assessed with visual inspections—from the finished vehicle to the smallest pin. The process takes time, as it should. A problem with the entire system could mean a failure, and that failure could be caused by a defect in any component. There's no excuse for taking shortcuts. But the time it takes to inspect each unit adds to the cycle time and is exhausting for the quality engineers.

Human error

While we need humans to carry out visual inspection, making mistakes is a natural part of being human. Consider the monotony of inspection, coupled with the mental exhaustion and high stress that come with the job, cycle after cycle, shift after shift. Even a frontline worker at the top of their game can’t catch everything, but that one miss can lead to added costs for the company.

Subjective and costly

Even if the quality engineer has years of experience doing visual inspections, the process is still subjective at some level. This can lead to lost product uniformity from shift to shift, or even from campus to campus, in large and distributed companies. This can cause difficulty in assessing reports, optimizing processes, or addressing issues—not to mention lost consumer trust from irregular quality control.

Understanding AI and AR in visual inspection

Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and augmented reality help people navigate their workplace and tasks by assisting, rather than automating, their functions.

AI brings a second set of eyes to the inspection line

AI decision-making resembles human decision-making. This is itself a collaborative process, as an evolving AI requires regular input from a human operator.

A mature AI system can provide extra support to workers for an additional layer of quality assurance. In the case of visual inspection, AI technology may be able to point out features that a quality engineer may have missed. The worker can then act on or ignore these features based on his or her experience and insights. The attention they used to spend recording their inspection results can be redirected to doing the task faster and more efficiently, as the AI ticks all the boxes during the inspection.

Augmented reality is visualization for the connected worker

Augmented reality uses digital interfaces to allow an operator to interact with a computer system without taking their eyes off the environment. The operator can now look through a screen and see 3D-augmented guidance on the physical world, rather than shifting their attention from the environment to paper instructions.

There are many benefits to implementing this technology in the workplace. It streamlines the operator's task by eliminating the need to constantly divert their attention. It also means they have improved situational awareness and workplace safety because they can look at through a screen without losing sight of their surroundings.

New technology augments the job site

There are opportunities for workforce automation, but visual inspection is not one of them. Whenever a decision needs to be made, it should be made by a person, and the technologies involved don't change that. AI technology offers support and insights, while augmented reality provides in-context visualization. Augmenting rather than automating tasks brings out the best in expert operators by providing the resources they need to do their jobs to the best of their abilities—and beyond.

Better training and onboarding with Digital Mentors

It’s difficult for an organization to meet critical KPIs as their experts retire and new, inexperienced workers join the company. Onboarding and training can be time-consuming and expensive, especially as machines and processes become more complex. AI-enhanced AR instructions can be authored by the few remaining experts you have, and then can be scaled out across the organization to help new hires. These Digital Mentors provide the same expertise as your most seasoned workers, but in a much more hands-on and efficient way.

Expanding capabilities with other emerging technologies

The more connected a workplace is, the more it can gain from implementing AI and AR solutions. Having more virtual models and maps available to an AR system makes it more robust. An AI program with access to more statistics and resources will be even more useful to your workforce.

Perhaps more than anything else, augmented reality, working in tandem with other connected devices and programs, will make more information available to the modern worker in more actionable ways than ever before. The way the average frontline worker interacts with their workplace and organization will improve with this freer flow of readily available information in easily accessible formats.

AI-enhanced AR for the connected worker

AI and AR provide additional insights and guidance, while keeping human judgment at the core of the inspection process.

Six benefits of AI and AR in visual inspection

We’ve talked about the qualitative benefits of AI and AR to the worker. There are also quantifiable benefits to the company—namely, accelerated cycle times, decreased omitted tests, decreased errors, increased throughput, and reduced time to production.

<p>We’ve talked about the qualitative benefits of AI and AR to the worker. There are also quantifiable benefits to the company—namely, accelerated cycle times, decreased omitted tests, decreased errors, increased throughput, and reduced time to production. </p>

Accelerate cycle times

By helping frontline workers navigate the inspection process more efficiently and automating the report generation step, AI-enhanced visual inspection solutions can decrease the amount of time that workers spend on each inspection.

Decrease omitted tests

Using AI-enhanced, AR-guided inspection procedures helps ensure that no steps are missed or performed incorrectly, decreasing the number of poor-quality tests and rework.

Decrease errors

Many test failures are the result of issues that can be easily corrected on the spot. AI-assisted visual inspection solutions can help the worker identify and resolve errors, rather than sending the part or system back for rework.

Improve customer experience

AI-enhanced visual inspection software can also assist technicians during service visits and customer support calls, enabling them to solve problems faster and more effectively.

Reduce time to production

Even experienced inspection engineers need to learn their way around new products. This is where the AR element of these solutions comes in, helping them physically navigate unfamiliar assets.

Boost sustainability

Using AI-enhanced AR work instructions gives frontline workers extra assurance that their job is done correctly. This helps avoid errors, rework, and costly scrap—helping promote sustainability in your organization.

AI visual inspection at work

Visual inspection can be used at any stage in the quality inspection process—from pre-assembly to end of line.

Quality control

For manufacturers, ensuring the quality of their products is essential for both profit and safety. With a growing demand for faster production time and customization, the pressure is greater than ever for quality inspectors to get the job done quickly and accurately. AI-enhanced visual inspection can aid quality engineers during in-line and end-of-line inspection when parts need to be reviewed quickly, assisting them in detecting defects that may not always be caught.

AR Quality Control

Field service inspection

Products in production at customer sites benefit from expert visual inspections before and after service. When an OEM sends out a service technician to repair a customer’s machine, it’s critical to their first-time fix rate that it’s done correctly. Using AI-enhanced visual inspection to review the serviced product and ensure that all parts have been replaced helps the technician document the job and offers the customer an additional assurance of quality.

AR Field Service

Maintenance inspections

The machines used to run your business need to be properly maintained and regularly inspected. If a machine goes down, it can end up costing you millions. Leveraging AI-enhanced visual inspections during machine maintenance helps technicians catch anything that might be out of place. These findings can also be documented automatically with AI and used for better predictive maintenance in the future.

AR Maintenance

FAQ

It's normal to have questions about any new technology. Here are some of the questions we see most often when it comes to AI and AR in visual inspection:

Are AI-based and traditional visual inspection different?

The actual process of visual inspection is the same whether AI is involved or not. In both cases, the inspection engineer walks around a large object, such as an engine block, or rotates a small object, like a spark plug, looking for common points of failure. The inspection engineer follows a prescribed workflow, noting how each unit inspected compares to an ideal model. This information is then shared to optimize the process and address recurring problems.

The difference is that AI technology guides the inspection engineer through the workflow, stating inspection points on each unit, suggesting potential fixes when necessary, and automatically completing and submitting reports along the way.

Why are AI and AR important in visual inspection processes?

Both artificial intelligence and augmented reality transform the way inspection engineers can access information. AI helps workers access more information faster than ever before. AR acts as an interface between the worker and the vast amount of information that AI makes available to them. It helps them sort through all that information and view it in a way that is easy to understand and use.

How does AI visual inspection impact QC time requirements?

AI reduces inspection cycle time in several ways, depending on the relative familiarity of the product and the relative experience of the inspector. AI helps inspectors become familiar with a new workflow or product by visually guiding them through the process and automating report generation. Even for an experienced inspector, AI can pick up small problems from a distance—including elements that an inspector would need to see up close or even test manually, such as the tightness of a cap or plug.

Which industries benefit from AI-powered visual inspection?

Most industries, from fabrication and manufacturing to assembly and customer service, can benefit from visual inspection. Visual inspection can be the last step before a unit is shipped, or the first step when a component is opened, but before it is used in assembling a larger system. It can also be used by field service technicians to help customers and clients troubleshoot problems.

Do I need a lot of data to take advantage of AI?

You don’t need a lot of data to get started with AI. But the more information you have, the more useful AI will be on a faster scale. The first step of implementing AI is training it for your specific use case. The more data you train AI with at the beginning, the more useful it will be on its first use.

PTC's AI systems learn from human operator feedback. So even if you don't have a lot of data to start with, you can still benefit from using AI from day one.

Does AI learn over time to improve visual inspection?

AI learns over time to improve visual inspection. As a human operator encounters new product defects and applies new solutions, AI can catalog these cases for future reference. This is one of the reasons why AI and human inspectors work best together.