OKdo Challenge: Interview with Nathan Chiam. Implementing intelligent automation

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19 Dec, 2023

OKdo Challenge: Interview with Nathan Chiam. Implementing intelligent automation

In response to the OKDo Engineering Challenge provocation, Nathan Chiam utilized the ROCK SBC as a solution to implement intelligent automation in their electrical equipment manufacturing facility.

The ROCK Engineering Challenge invited engineers, entrepreneurs, inventors, and developers to submit an idea for a part, product, or system that took advantage of the ROCK single-board computers. The challenge received a significant number of submissions from across the globe, impressing the judging panel with cutting-edge applications of single-board computers. In a new series, we are speaking with entrants from the challenge to learn more about their innovative ideas. In our latest interview, we spoke to Nathan Chiama, who is looking to use OKdo SBcs to utilized implement intelligent automation in his electrical equipment manufacturing facility. 

Wevolver writer, Lori Baldwin, spoke with Nathan about his ideas for implementing automation.


Lori Baldwin: Hi, Nathan. Nice to meet you! Could you start off by introducing yourself and telling us a bit about your company?

Nathan Chiam: Certainly. I'm Nathan Chiam, I'm from Malaysia, and I work in my family business, where we specialize in designing and manufacturing electrical equipment, including main switchboards, motor control centers, PLCs, and control panels. Our products are mainly for process manufacturing industries such as food and beverage, water utility management, and various other sectors.

Lori Baldwin: Can you tell us a bit more about the history of the company and your personal role?

Nathan Chiam: Our company was founded in 1991, and it initially focused on manufacturing switchboards. Over time, we evolved into a system integration company specializing in PLC programming, HMI, SCADA, and DCS solutions. Personally, I didn't start with an electrical engineering background; I studied international business, management, and marketing in the UK. I returned to the family business and gradually became more involved in digitalization and modernization efforts.

Lori Baldwin: What challenges did you aim to address by using a single-board computer (SBC), and what motivated you to participate in the ROCK Challenge?

Nathan Chiam: My company has embarked on the Industry 4.0 journey, incentivized by the Malaysian government. It’s opened my mind to the idea of implementing intelligent automation in our factory. 

Our company was selected as part of the Industry 4.0 readiness assessment. This assessment evaluates various aspects of readiness, including system migration and cybersecurity. It aims to position companies like ours to adopt integrated solutions, similar to what's happening in Industry 4.0 around the world. I’ve envisioned integrating systems like HVAC, cameras for detection, building management, and remote monitoring.  

Lori Baldwin: How do you envisage integrating the ROCK 4C+ 4GB into making your company Industry 4.0 ready?

Nathan Chiam: I am interested in utilizing the ROCK 4C+ 4GB single-board computer to automate my factory's building automation system, including visitor security management and automatic HR attendance recording with CCTV and ID access.

The fact that the board is an AI-enabled SBC will help us to create a system to assist us in achieving our goals. Additionally, I hope that the ROCK can help reduce the cost of installation for implementing light control, fan control, compressor control, air cond control, and water control, among other things. It would be helpful to have shop floor intelligence that can detect supplier lorry number plates and advise suitable material handling equipment to the storekeeper based on the receiving list from our ERP. 

Furthermore, I hope to use a system with the ROCK to assist my workers with communicating with cobots or robots.

Lori Baldwin: So, you're hoping to use the ROCK to improve your factory and increase productivity. 

Nathan Chiam: Exactly, and to streamline operations.

Lori Baldwin: Are there any other challenges you foresee in integrating and implementing the ROCK into your factory?

Nathan Chiam: Two significant hurdles are yet to be addressed. First, we need to identify the right cameras, sensors, and field devices. Secondly, we need to allocate a programmer or engineer in our company to oversee the implementation. These are the key challenges we're currently facing. Having access to a community for technical support would also be greatly beneficial. 

We are a small company with 35 employees. Many of us wear multiple hats, and it's challenging to allocate resources for SBC implementation on top of our regular tasks. 

Lori Baldwin: Considering the multitasking nature of your team, how do you envision SBCs easing the workload and improving efficiency in your company?

Nathan Chiam: While I haven't explored all the possibilities, I believe the ROCK could help in tasks like HR attendance and payroll calculations, as well as data collection for process improvement. It's an area I hope to explore further.

Lori Baldwin: How do you see the evolution of technologies like SBCs influencing future projects in your field?

Nathan Chiam: I believe SBCs can be invaluable in data collection, integration with building management systems, and energy efficiency, among other things. They have the potential to bring substantial improvements to various aspects of our work. I hope to see more case studies and success stories that can help small SMEs like ours understand how to use SBCs effectively. 

Lori Baldwin: How do you see your company evolving in the future?

Nathan Chiam: As the company continues its journey toward Industry 4.0, I foresee a more strategic role, focusing on digital transformation, automation, and technology adoption. We have projects with international clients, and we aim to expand our services and strengthen our presence in various industries. I hope to explore AI integration in SBCs and welcome more case studies and resources to aid SMEs in their journey towards digital transformation.

Using the ROCK SBC series to automate factories

The ROCK Single Board Computer (SBC) can be instrumental in creating a smart factory by integrating and automating various processes. Here's how:

  • Powerful Computing Capabilities: ROCK SBCs are equipped with powerful processors (for example, the Rockchip RK3588 SoC) that can handle complex computations and data processing tasks. This is particularly useful in a smart factory setup where real-time data analysis is crucial.
  • Versatility: ROCK SBCs support multiple operating systems, including Android and Debian/Ubuntu Linux, which means they can be used to run a wide range of factory automation software.
  • Connectivity: These devices come with wireless connectivity options like WiFi, Bluetooth, and Ethernet, enabling seamless integration with other devices, sensors, and systems in the factory. This can help in setting up a connected environment conducive to Industry 4.0.
  • Compact and Durable: The small form factor of ROCK SBCs makes them suitable for deployment in various industrial scenarios. They are capable of withstanding harsh conditions, which is often a requirement in factory environments.
  • Scalability: ROCK SBCs can be easily added or removed from the system, allowing the smart factory setup to scale up or down depending on the requirements.
  • Cost-Effective: Compared to traditional industrial computers, SBCs like ROCK are more cost-effective, making it easier for businesses to adopt smart factory solutions.
  • Customization: ROCK SBCs offer customization options, allowing factories to choose features and capabilities that align with their specific needs.
  • AI and ML Applications: Some versions of ROCK SBCs come with support for AI and ML applications. This can be used for predictive maintenance, quality control, and other smart factory applications.

In a smart factory, ROCK SBCs can be deployed for tasks like:

  • Control of automated machinery.

  • Real-time data collection and processing from IoT sensors.

  • Running advanced analytics and machine learning models for predictive maintenance.

  • Facilitating communication between various systems and machinery.

  • Enabling remote monitoring and control of factory operations.

  • By integrating ROCK SBCs into the factory setup, businesses can create a more efficient, automated, and intelligent production environment.#

Learn more about which ROCK board would enable your smart factory.

More by Lori Baldwin

Lori is a writer with over a decade of experience. She has a background in multidisciplinary projects at the intersection of AI, art, and community. She received her MA in International Performance Research from the University of Amsterdam & the University of Warwick and her BA in Communications and...