Toshiba, the traditional AI Company
Artificial intelligence, AI, is an often heard buzzword in the world of IT, and it gets a lot of media coverage for things like “singing-chatting robots” and the interactive personal assistants on our smartphones. But what exactly is AI? Definitions usually center on making computers or systems do things that humans use intelligence to do. In applying it to its own in-house systems, Toshiba describes it as: a system providing optimized controls and services by analyzing and processing enormous amounts of data. In fact, Toshiba has long developed and used its original AI technologies to speed up manufacturing and enhance productivity.
Yokkaichi Operations. Leading the way in applying AI
The place to see Toshiba’s AI in action and making a difference is Yokkaichi Operations. Located in Mie prefecture in central Honshu, the largest of Japan’s main islands, Yokkaichi is one of the world’s largest and most advanced fabs for the production of Flash memory. While these IC memories might not be immediately familiar, they are at the heart of digital products we all rely on: in our smartphones, tablets and PCs; in storage devices like the SD Card; and in the SSD that help to realize ever bigger data centers and the services they offer.
In a highly competitive market, where every advantage counts, Toshiba is concerned to eliminate “Muda,” any activity that is futile or useless or that affects lead times, productivity and quality. At Yokkaichi, AI is in the front line of fighting muda. For instance, every day, approximately 2 billion data points, amassed at a rate of 1 million data a minute, are fed to computers from 5,000 units of semiconductor manufacturing equipment and equipment and the plant’s automated transportation system. They are almost instantaneously analyzed for early detection of process problems or failures or production bottlenecks, so as to improve yields and shorten lead times.
It would be impossible to handle and analyze these massive data flows manually. The only way to do it is by applying “deep learning” to the automatic recognition and classification of phenomena identified amidst the incessant daily accumulation of more and more data. In fact, AI made it possible to shorten the fault estimation time to 2 hours—done by people, it would take at least 6 hours. Another plus is in automated scanning of the silicon wafers on which chips are formed. AI-based analysis of faults not only identifies them more quickly and accurately than visual inspection (computers do not get tired), it also enables classification that identifies what is causing the problem in the first place. That points the way to increased yields.
As Toshiba continues to expand production at Yokkaichi and promote the transition to 3D Flash memory with a stacked structure, it will also continue to develop and refine AI support tools and technologies. Know-how developed at Yokkaichi will also be transferred to other plants and businesses, to help raise productivity in other operations.
Toshiba AI for the infrastructure businesses
Bringing full automation to manufacturing sites requires and real knowledge and understanding of the business. Utilizing AI to optimize manufacturing processes in the same way Toshiba has done at Yokkaichi Operations requires collecting as much data as possible. When it comes to optimizing AI for society as a whole, Toshiba has the advantage a deep knowledge of infrastructure, gained through its businesses in electricity generation and transmission, railway systems, building facilities, and more. Toshiba is looking to deploy AI solutions in various areas in the future, for example in high efficiency power plants and in maintenance of other power facilities. Toshiba also sees AI as a way to take on and solve social problems, such as the declining birthrate and aging society in Japan, the population explosion in developing countries, increases in greenhouse gases from global warming, and so on. It is not just a dream that our everyday lives will be changed for the better by AI.