Japan’s Hitachi will utilize generative artificial intelligence to pass on expert skills in maintenance and manufacturing to newer workers, aiming to blunt the impact of mass retirements of experienced employees.
The company will use the technology to generate videos depicting difficulties or accidents at railways, power stations and manufacturing plants and use them in virtual training for employees.
Hitachi already has developed an AI system that creates images based on 3D data of plants and infrastructure. It projects possible malfunctions — smoke, a cave-in, a rail buckling — onto an image of an actual rail track. This can also be done on images of manufacturing sites, including metal processing and assembly lines. Hitachi will merge this technology into a program for virtual drills that is now under development.
Skilled workers use intuition, honed through years of experience, to detect the slightest irregularities — such as changes in a piece of equipment’s sound, temperature or smell — that could lead to an accident or a malfunction.
The manufacturing industry has trouble passing on such tacit knowledge, which is difficult to put into a manual for the next generation. As the number of skilled instructors decreases, Hitachi is attempting to simulate the experience of dealing with breakdowns and accidents for younger workers by using images created by the AI system.
The training space will be a tiny room of just 10 square meters. The walls, ceiling and floor will be covered by screens projecting images of infrastructure and factories created by the generative AI, allowing trainees an immersive experience.
For example, using images of railroad tracks and rolling stock, maintenance workers can feel as if they were walking around on an actual site and learning how to inspect anomalies. The system is expected to help improve the skills of maintenance workers by enabling them to learn about many problems that could lead to serious accidents.
Research and development of this system for railroads and nuclear power plants is underway. The system also allows users to participate in training from remote locations via virtual reality devices. The company will initially use the system internally, and in the future will consider offering it to customers after checking the reliability of the generated AI.
A generative AI system for workers through troubleshooting will also be developed. For example, when asked what should be done when a certain lamp on electric power safety equipment is blinking, the system is intended to explain that there may be a setting error in a regulating valve and suggest checking an adjacent meter, marking and explaining things in a virtual space.
According to Japan’s Cabinet Office, the percentage of Japan’s population over the age of 65 will exceed 30% by 2030, and there is growing concern that Japan’s declining birthrate and aging population will result in a serious shortage of human resources. According to an estimate by Tokyo-based Persol Research and Consulting and Chuo University, in Tokyo, there will be a shortage of 6.44 million workers by 2030.
In preparation for the retirement of veteran employees, Hitachi is thinking of “making it possible for employees to experience past failures and notice in a simulated manner so that know-how can be passed on to the next generation,” according to a representative at the company’s Advanced AI Innovation Center.