“We’re in the midst of a second industrial revolution — the automation revolution,” said Automation Intelligence co-founder Richard Schrade III. “Our economy demands products to be delivered faster, more customized, and produced cheaper. This requires an industry beyond humans. So we provide clarity and analytical support to companies who wish to innovate their industrial assets.”
As a consulting firm based in Midtown, Atlanta, Automation Intelligence leverages technology such as rapid prototyping, virtual commissioning, machine learning, and virtual reality to solve an array of problems for fields such as eCommerce, Bio-Pharma, and Aerospace.
Rapid prototyping enables a company to assess the value of an investment, and find hidden flaws not obvious in a static model. Prototyping offers benefits such as proof of concept and efficient collaboration.
“We shift that prototyping and evaluating of robotics into a physics-based virtual world that all exists inside of our computer,” said Schrade. “I say that it replicates the real world with 85% precision.”
With virtual commissioning, Automation Intelligence creates a digital twin of a facility that allows a company to test programming of automated equipment offline with no shutdowns required.
“Using innovative Digital Twin technology, we create a virtual replica of a new system and optimize it before building it,” said Schrade. “We can improve a factory that hasn’t been built. We find what will go wrong before it does. This increases the efficiency of money-making assets, reduces the risk of disastrous cost overruns, and creates a safer working environment for people.”
With artificial intelligence and machine learning, a company can utilize Automation Intelligence’s proprietary prediction and classification algorithms to uncover insights within their own data sets. Machine learning models allow a company to test an infinite number of hypotheses in a safe, virtual environment.
“What we can do is basically connect the computers that will make the decisions for the target facility in our model,” said Schrade. “We trick their computers into thinking they are running the real system when really they’re not. That allows us to test a site that is performing poorly or a site that is not open yet. We can recreate the factory or facility in this virtual world, test it really quickly, and iron out all of the kinks. Typically, it would take six weeks to commission that, and it requires having all the engineers on the floor to see what works. We can shorten that typically by about 50%.”
Virtual reality allows companies to see and experience a facility long before it is built. Through the use of HTC Vive, companies can interact with machines, computer screens, and objects like scanners and tablets to test and train before start-up.
“We can allow future operators or workers in these facilities to train and get familiar and learn the system,” said Schrade. “That’s one thing that we also offer towards the end of virtual commissioning. Let’s say you’re hiring and you don’t want to train somebody on the real system, this is especially prevalent in pharmaceuticals where there’s too much on the line for a novice person to make a mistake. We train them in virtual reality, throw wrenches at them, and make sure they check all the boxes when they’re doing certain tasks. It’s a really interactive and immersive way for people to get comfortable with their working environment and learn what to do.”
Schrade said one of the biggest hurdles of his business is the educational component of showing potential clients what is possible with the type of technology Automation Intelligence provides. However, he said Atlanta has been very receptive.
“I think that there’s an exciting future for automation in America,” said Schrade. “I think Atlanta is and will continue to be a really powerful player when it comes to smart logistics and intelligence automation.”
Currently, Automation Intelligence operates as a consulting firm, but Schrade hopes the company can expand by adding a product component.
“Our vision for the company is to create more intelligence for these automated systems. Rather than doing ‘if this, then that,’ we want to replace that with a machine learning model or with an operations research model,” said Schrade. “Something that can make the perfect decision every time and in some cases increase the throughput or increase the capacity of the system by five to ten percent in some cases just by changing one decision, or implementing one-piece or changing one thing. That’s where we are taking this company – building out this intellectual property that we can take to companies who have these circumstances and small little targeted problems and give them a better way to do that.”
“We were in senior design together. Ari went on to do his Masters in Analytics and was in the Machine Learning Ph.D. Program when he left to start this company with me,” said Schrade.
The Automation Intelligence team currently consists of nine employees who specialize in various fields such as engineering and robotics. The industrial automation consulting firm has always embraced a remote culture, even prior to COVID. Schrade lives in Nashville Tennessee, while Siesser lives in Atlanta.
“We’ve got people that work all over,” said Schrade. “We do have a small office in Midtown Atlanta where we can all have a home base. We like to recruit and hire interns out of Georgia Tech, and that office allows them the opportunity to get immersive face-to-face training.”