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HPE and ABB: Robotics, AI and Human Collaboration on the Digital Factory Floor

Robotics, automation and data are not new in manufacturing. In fact, manufacturing is one of the most data-rich industries; however, it’s been estimated that about 95% of all industrial data is unused. The reason for this is legacy equipment and operational systems that tend to be proprietary and siloed, incapable of communicating with each other. 

What is new is that technology has reached an inflection point – robotics automation systems, sensor data, analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence have the potential to transform manufacturing and industrial processes.  

As plant floor operations technologies converge with IT, a host of use cases across the manufacturing cycle becomes possible to ignite innovation, create more efficient operations, and enable new business models and revenue streams. For example, prescriptive maintenance enabled by AI/L models can automate the actions needed for maintenance of heavy equipment and large assets. In fact, manufacturing is one of the leading industries that can truly become data-enabled and edge-centric, given the number of connected “things” and robots constantly getting smarter on the manufacturing floor.

Forging a partnership for the future of manufacturing

This week, I attended this year’s International Engineering Fair (MSV). It’s the most important industrial fair in Central Europe, with more than 1,600 exhibitors and 80,000 visitors. I had an opportunity to meet many leaders from the manufacturing and utilities industries. It was great to see state-of-the-art digital technologies and examples of how IT and OT technologies are converging to enable industrial digitalization. At the event, I participated in a joint panel with ABB, a leading robotics, industrial automation and digital technology company. One of the focuses was the announcement of ABB and HPE partnering to deliver the Factory of the Future.

The Factory of the Future is where IoT and AI meet to solve manufacturing process-loop challenges. An example of a Factory of the Future solution would be ABB and HPE partnering to connect robots and the data they create on the Edge – through Aruba Networks and the SEDC – with HPE Pointnext Data Analytics and AI, plus ABB’s software. ABB’s robotics will increase speed and decrease defects, while HPE’s Data Analytics will boost performance and business insights.

Below is a photograph from the event with the ABB and HPE Factory of the Future team meeting with the Swiss Government delegation to discuss the integration of robotics and data analytics.



We discussed how ABB and HPE are unlocking the value of data by combining robots, storage, compute and analytics, to enable the end-to-end Factory of the Future experience and capabilities.

And here’s a photo of the ABB and HPE team:



Putting AI to work: an example use case

Why and when is AI important for the Factory of the Future? I am using ‘artificial intelligence’ in a narrow sense here, meaning machine-learning/deep learning; advanced analytics techniques applied to specific processes; or use cases mimicking human-like behavior, such as decision-making by learning.

This sounds abstract, so let me give you an example that HPE and ABB are jointly working on. Think about robots working on the manufacturing floor, such as ABB’s smart robots. And imagine a car manufacturer that has a new quality auditing requirement to trace all parts and raw materials so as to know exactly which plant each part came from – the exact batch, as well as the time of production, etc. Basically, the manufacturer requires that each part and component can be traced back to the producer.

How can AI help to achieve this?

There is data created on the Edge. For manufacturing, it could be by robots and sensors on the factory floor. For energy companies, it could be from an oil rig, or it could be data from a power grid OS. This is the Edge; it is not the data center creating and analyzing data.

Some of the analytics happen at the Edge for fast action, and some of this data needs to be integrated into the existing big data environment or a new data platform environment. This is where HPE experts from the HPE Pointnext Services Data and Analytics team can help. The experts can define and validate use cases like this one, integrate the data and analyze it, and apply machine-learning techniques as outlined in the slide below, where the ML models can predict and prescribe the upcoming maintenance cycles, for example.



Do we use artificial intelligence for better and faster analytics only? Not really. It is possible to automate actions, for example with a prescriptive maintenance use case solution from HPE. However, building trust in data and training the AI model with a feedback loop are critical. We believe AI augments human capabilities – it does not necessarily replace them – while automating some of the more mundane tasks.

The manufacturing industry has been at the forefront of automation, and companies with Edge-centric and data-enabled strategies will continue to lead the pack. Artificial intelligence is a big step towards making things smarter. With this new partnership between HPE and ABB, we are making the Factory of the Future a reality.


For more information

HPE AI, data, analytics advisory

HPE Prescriptive Maintenance Solution

Break down data silos with Closed Loop Manufacturing Video

Galvanizing Manufacturing with Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Whitepaper 

Object Detection Technology:  The next big thing   


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About the Author


Senior Vice President & General Manager of Advisory & Professional Services for HPE Pointnext Services