An Unlikely Contender in the Automation Marketplace

With AI-powered quality control tools, this Canadian firm is going "toe-to-toe" in the global realm of manufacturing automation.

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As long as automated manufacturing has been around, plant managers have tried to operate under ideal settings to consistently produce high-quality end products as quickly as possible. But the increasing complexity of manufacturing processes has made this more and more of a shot in the dark.

In routine operation, there are subtle differences in things like raw materials or the ambient room temperature of the manufacturing environment. These changes can interfere with product quality; add to that the complicated webs of automation, and it can be tough to rely on human inspection for quality assurance with complex products. These methods are prone to error and can lead to product recalls, losses, and damage to a company’s reputation.

Eigen Innovations, based in Fredericton, N.B., offers a workaround through their AI-powered quality control platform, which can analyze an array of factors and hone in on the optimal settings. It also allows operators to continually monitor the production line in real time for defects.

Eigen’s AI solution

The AI works through a combination of high-resolution imaging, thermographic data, and algorithms that help reduce waste while also increasing cycle speeds and maximizing efficiencies. Eigen works closely with customers to adapt the platform to their specific manufacturing needs.

“The first step is to identify all the data that affects end quality,” said CEO Scott Everett in conversation with Design Engineering. “We then put Eigen hardware in place for continuous real-time data collection and ongoing analysis of the manufacturing process, which always uncovers brand new insights.

“Our AI provides machine operators with setting recommendations to achieve process optimization and also detects quality issues in real time, allowing for immediate fixes. Over time, the AI begins to predict outcomes before they happen.”

Revving up the automotive sector

Some of Eigen’s most important clients are manufacturers involved in Tier 1 automotive parts, which includes parts like headlights. Other clients include groups involved in specialty paper manufacturing, plastics joining and welding, die casting, sheet metal production, and adhesive dispensing.

“Our technology is applicable in a lot of different sectors but in terms of that going-to-market, getting the scalability and repeatability of a product, we started to really lean-in on our domain knowledge in the field of plastics and really started to see the opportunity within automotive,” said Everett.

“There’s a lot of plastic parts on vehicles and if you look at the types of parts that we work with a lot — headlights and taillights and critical components like gas tanks — there’s an increased innovation pressure. The complexity of these parts is getting more and more.”

As Eigen’s involvement with the globally-oriented automotive industry has increased, their client base has expanded to countries like Japan, Spain and Mexico. Eigen now works with four of the top 10 Tier 1 automotive parts suppliers worldwide.

Funding and talent from here at home

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency recently granted Eigen $708,000 as an investment to help them expand into Asian and European markets. This comes off the back of $3.5 million which was raised last October in a round of equity funding, a move that facilitated the team’s expansion to 30 members.

Made up of data scientists, PhD students, engineers, and developers, the team is spread between Fredericton and Windsor, Ont. (close to the automotive manufacturing industry).

Everett is proud of the talent that can be found north of the border: “I think it’s been a really exciting journey and it’s been really exciting to actually go out into the global marketplace and go toe-to-toe. The perception is that all technology is either in Silicon Valley or somewhere else and that’s just not true.”

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Barry is a journalist, editor, and marketer for several media outlets including HeadStuff, The Media Editor, and Buttonmasher Magazine. He earned his Master of the Arts in Journalism from Dublin City University in 2017 and moved to Toronto to pursue a career in the media. Barry is passionate about communicating and debating culture, science, and politics and their collective global impact.