Behind the scenes at MxD in Chicago

by the AT&T Business Editorial Team

The need for adoption of digital transformation has accelerated quickly since the global pandemic. By working with MxD to create an environment powered by AT&T 5G and Multi-Access Edge Compute  (MEC), companies can gain access to the network speed and reliability they need to take advantage of more data and use those insights in near-real-time. AT&T Business embraces its leadership role in addressing the need for innovation in the manufacturing industry, and its expertise in 5G and MEC makes it a great choice for the role.

So, let’s dive into the three use cases you’ll see on display in our testbed environment.

First, there’s better production accuracy. Step up to the display, and you’ll see boxes on a conveyor belt. Our system monitors conveyor belt speed and production accuracy. “It’s like a game of ‘one of these things is not like the other.” If the wrong size box shows up, an alert goes out to let management know there was a defect within their production line,” said Jason Inskeep, Director, 5G Center of Excellence, AT&T Business.

The second use case involves inventory tracking. You’ll see a system monitoring inventory levels and location. Really, it comes down to managing high-value parts. Sometimes these parts are so expensive that the manufacturer will just buy one and rely on it heavily. Again, if an expensive part goes missing or is out of place, management receives an alert.

Finally, the third use case involves safety monitoring. This is a story about safety and foreign object debris. Many manufacturers still need to rely on legacy systems such as the drill press, drill press technology from the 1950s and 60s. This and equipment like it, including legacy systems, still do the work required today.

They’re expensive to replace, and the drill press, for example, tends to overheat. Using modern technology to help them stay running provides some protection. Our vision system can trigger an alert before it becomes a problem – when, for example, the temperature is rising outside of the specified range. It can also see if someone’s entering an area without a safety helmet, as well as detect foreign object debris, such as a part or piece of scrap on the floor. Alerts such as these help to ensure both products and people are safe.

So, how does all of this work? Let’s take a look behind the scenes.

You combine 5G and MEC. But there’s another piece of technology called LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging. This is where the fun begins. LiDAR is typically used to measure distances, but it has many other applications. For instance, we know how expensive a bottleneck on a production line can be. By allowing you to see issues during production that may not be detected until damage is done, LiDAR helps you detect them before they cause preventable scrap or shut down the line.

“We combine this technology with video to create a spatial point cloud. Think of it as a bunch of dots in the air,” Inskeep said. “Each of the billions of points of data in this cloud are from a single laser-collected scan to render an image of the focus area.” Anything that disrupts the spatial point cloud triggers an alert. The video cameras and LiDAR work together to notice, for example, if the box on the conveyor belt is the wrong size, if a part is missing, or if an old drill press is overheating.”

“LiDAR or video alone can create the spatial point cloud. But using both together is better. Doing so makes the points much tighter, as if you’re creating a tighter weave in fabric,” Inskeep said. “You’ll get more granularity by using both.”

Once all that data is collected, it is sent over the AT&T 5G Network in a fast and efficient way. We use a technology bundle that helps businesses drive efficiencies on a near-real-time basis. That technology bundle includes Internet of Things, that is, AT&T IoT Video Intelligence, which applies artificial intelligence and machine learning to the video footage.

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