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Artificial Intelligence Helps the Foreman to Make Decisions That Benefit Both the Factory and the Employees

One of the most important tasks for a foreman is to ensure that the team has as little obstacles as possible disturbing their work. This applies also to “AI foreman”, a concept developed in the Reboot IoT Factory project. AI foreman is aimed for assisting the human foremen. It complements human skills with its own strengths, resulting in improved overall performance.

People working in factories these days spend way too much time in managing and scheduling orders. Furthermore, capabilities to react in sudden changes are not on a good enough level. Inventory management might fail if the storage runs out of a critical component, a worker with the needed skill profile might call in sick, a parallel project might reserve the needed factory equipment for a longer time than originally anticipated, and so on. Typically, resourcing and scheduling is performed once a week or once a day, but because of the aforementioned incidents it is rarely realized in production as originally planned.

Together with VTT, University of Oulu, Gambit Labs, Parta Games, and FixUI, ABB is developing a system to assist order management and scheduling. This system, also called the AI foreman, has real-time knowledge of the factory’s state. It can also perform forecasts and notify of potential future incidents. It helps to speed up order management and improves the factory’s performance.

AI foreman can also take into account the employees’ skill domains and levels, codified in individual competence matrices. A future version will also start to gather and utilize employees’ own preferences in its reasoning. Light surveys can be conducted to collect feedback of various work phases. This can be used to plan an employee’s day so that it consists of pleasant and sensible tasks.

The same collected information can also be used for adopting new skills and career development. Diverse tasks often improve well-being and level of enjoyment. In addition to the employee, also the factory as a whole benefits from multidisciplinary know-how because it helps resourcing and dynamic reaction to changes.

Gamification is in a central role in the project. When an employee completes a task enough times within the target schedule, she levels up and the AI foreman can use this information in its future planning. ABB’s factory has in the spring of 2019 had more orders than ever before, which has caused some challenges to make the deadlines. If the AI foreman had already been deployed, scheduling might have been easier to accomplish.

Mikko Jukkanen, ABB
Johannes Peltola, VTT
Pekka Siirtola, University of Oulu

Santtu Toivonen

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