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Quantum computing: Industrial opportunities

Mainstream quantum computing may be years away, but some companies are finding ways to pilot the technology now, to see if it can deliver tangible business benefits

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The latest McKinsey Tech Trends 2022 outlook report notes that the biggest uncertainty facing quantum technologies is the time-frame in which error-corrected quantum computers will be developed.

Despite research advances in the past few years, McKinsey’s research reports that quantum technologies remain nascent and have garnered less attention than more mature technologies. But despite these challenges, the study presents a number of plausible benefits that could be achieved if error rates can be reduced.

Rodney Zemmel, senior partner, McKinsey and global leader, McKinsey Digital, said: “Quantum computing doesn’t make sense for every company, but the range of potential applications we’ve seen is broad, from biopharma to automotive and, of course, telecom and financial services.”

Although the technology may be many years away, so-called quantum-inspired algorithms can be used today in applications such as process optimisation.

According to Microsoft, optimisation is a class of computing problems that are primary candidates for running on quantum computers in the future, providing a quantum advantage over classical computing.

“Applying quantum-inspired optimisation to real-world problems may offer businesses new insights or help lower costs by making their processes more efficient,” the company said on its Azure Quantum website, for simulating quantum algorithms on the Azure public cloud.

Among the organisations looking at quantum computing today is manufacturer Bosch. The Bosch Automotive Electronics plant in Madrid has begun working with quantum computing specialist Multiverse Computing to apply quantum technology to optimise manufacturing processes.

The manufacturer collects vast amounts of sensor data from the machinery in the Madrid plant and hopes Multiverse’s experience in applying quantum computing optimisations in the finance sector can be adapted for industrial applications.

Carlos Conde, technical vice-president of the Bosch factory in Madrid, said: “The collaboration with Multiverse is focused on improving the productivity and competitiveness of our factory by researching the use of quantum and quantum-inspired machine learning tools, aligned with our global Smart Factory strategy. We have great expectations about the results of the algorithms development using our big data and about spreading this knowledge within the Bosch organisation.”

Current Industry 4.0 efforts in Bosch’s 240 plants have see the manufacturer deploy 120,000 connected machines and more than 250,000 devices. Conde said that by understanding all the data coming from these connected devices, “we use this information to improve operations in the Madrid plant, such as performance, quality and  maintenance schedules”. The company anticipates that this analysis could increase productivity by up to 25%. 

Read more about quantum industrial applications

  • Car maker BMW is encouraging researchers and startups to submit industry-specific algorithms that take advantage of quantum computing.
  • Using quantum computing to solve complex non-linear differential equations offers a way for Siemens to speed up digital-twin simulations.

Bosch expects to have results of the current phase, involving the development and implementation of customised quantum and quantum-inspired algorithms in the Madrid facility, later this year. If successful, there is the potential to integrate quantum optimisations into production environments across Bosch manufacturing facilities. “At Bosch, we have the freedom to improve our plant,” said Conde.

If everything runs as promised and the company discovers a good opportunity to use quantum algorithms, a production deployment in Madrid will follow, paving the way to a wider roll-out across the group’s 250 manufacturing plants.

BASF is another manufacturer that has been working with Multiverse Computing on optimisation. However, this time the chemical firm is not looking at Multiverse Computing to improve industrial processes. Instead, it hopes the quantum algorithms will improve its foreign currency transactions (forex).

“Quantum computing is a promising field which has developed rapidly over recent years,” said Abhishek Awasthi, member of the next generation computing team at BASF who worked with Multiverse on the project. “Multiverse has a strong focus and expertise in quantum computing in the financial industry, and BASF wanted to start a joint project in order to explore what we can do together. From our conversations with Multiverse, we believe they can offer a significant advantage in terms of optimisation of forex transactions.”

In the initial phase, the project is focused on trading between euros and US dollars. As Computer Weekly has reported previously, BASF has also begun working with quantum algorithm developer Pasqual to use proprietary algorithms to predict weather patterns in order to support its digital farming business.

Beyond optimisation, Multiverse Computing recently co-authored a paper discussing the use of quantum-based machine vision in industrial applications to detect manufacturing flaws. Based on testing against 546 sample images, the paper describes benchmarking quantum machine vision algorithms on two noisy intermediate scale quantum computers (Nisq).

“Our results show that quantum machine learning has a bright future when applied to real-life problems, and specifically to computer vision tasks,” wrote the paper’s authors.

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