I recently demonstrated a really simple bagged-decision tree model that "predicts" if the scanned part will go on to fail at downstream testing with ~95% certainty. I honestly don't have a whole lot of background in the realm of ML so it's entirely possible that I'm one of those dreaded types that are applying principles without full understanding of them (and yes I do actually feel quite guilty about it).
The results speak for themselves though - $1M/year scrap cost avoided (if the model is approved for production use) in just being able to tell earlier in the line when something has gone wrong. That's on one product, in one factory, in one company that has over 100 factories world-wide.
The experience has prompted me to go back to school to learn this stuff more formally. There is immense value to be found (or rather, waste to be avoided) using ML in complex manufacturing/supply-chain environments.
First, bagged decision trees are a little hard to interpret; what is the advantage of a bagged model vs the plain trees? Are you using a simple majority vote for combination? What are the variances between the different bootstraps?
Second - what do you mean by 95% ? Do you mean that out of 99999 good parts 4999 are thrown away? and one bad one is picked out as bad ?
Third - what is this telling you about your process? Do you have a theory that has evolved from the stats that tells you why parts are failing? This is the real test for me.. If the ML is telling you where it is going wrong (even if it's unavoidable/too expensive to solve) then you've got something real.
Unfortunately my concern would be that as it stands.. you might find that in production your classifier doesn't perform as well as it did in test... My worry has been generated by the fact that this same thing has happened to me !
I'd hazard to guess that the 95% is the reduction in how many parts made it through the first test only to be caught later at the more expensive stage. So instead of binning 100 parts a month at that second stage, they now bin 5 parts a month and catch way more early on.
It sounds like the OP is using ML to identify flaws that simply just occur due to imperfections in the manufacturing process. That's life, it happens. You can know that they will occur without necessarily being able to prevent them because maybe there's some dust or other particulates in the air that deposit into the resin occasionally, or maybe the resin begins to cure and leaves hard spots that form bond flaws. There's heaps of possible reasons. It sounds more like the ML is doing classification of 'this too much of a flaw in a local zone' vs 'this has some flaws but it's still good enough to pass', which is how we operate with casting defects. For example, castings have these things called SCRATA comparitor plates, where you literally look at an 'example' tactile plate, look at your cast item, then mentally decide on a purely qualtative aspect which grade of plate it matches. Here  are some bad black and white photos of the plates.
To clarify on that 95% value because it is admittedly really vague: That's actually a 95% correct prediction rate. So far we get ~2.5% false-positives and ~2.5% false-negatives. 2.5% of the parts evaluated will be incorrectly allowed to continue and will subsequently fail downstream testing (no big deal). More importantly, 2.5% of parts evaluated will be wrongly identified as scrap by the model and tossed, but this still works out to be a massive cost savings because a lot of expensive material/labor is committed to the device before the downstream test.
Malik 'Poot' Carr: Naw, man, that ain't right.
D'Angelo Barksdale: Fuck "right." It ain't about right, it's about money. Now you think Ronald McDonald gonna go down in that basement and say, "Hey, Mista Nugget, you the bomb. We sellin' chicken faster than you can tear the bone out. So I'm gonna write my clowny-ass name on this fat-ass check for you"?
D'Angelo Barksdale: Man, the nigga who invented them things still workin' in the basement for regular wage, thinkin' up some shit to make the fries taste better or some shit like that. Believe.
Wallace: Still had the idea, though.
2.5% of what, though? if only 1 in a million parts are actually bad, you're still tossing many more good parts than bad parts.
By the way, control engineering for industry used to be very difficult (but is paid very well), and requires knowledge of systems theory, differential equations, and physics. But with the advent of ML, I suspect that might change; things may get a lot easier.
I believe that the parent post means that with current simulation-based tools and large amounts of data generated from manufacturing processes, one can work directly with abstract machine learning models instead of creating physical models or approximations thereof---thus being able to dispose of the mathematical baggage of optimization/control theory and work with a black-box, general approach.
I disagree since we have very few guarantees about machine learning algorithms relative to well-known control approximations with good bounds; additionally, I think it's quite dangerous to be toying with such models without extensive testing in industrial processes, which, to my knowledge is rarely done in most settings by experts, much less people only recently coming into the field. Conversely, you're forced to consistently think about these things in control theory, which I believe, makes it harder to screw up since the models are also highly interpretable and can be understood by people
This is definitely not the case in high-dimensional models: what is the 3rd edge connected to the 15th node in your 23rd layer of that 500-layer deep net mean? Is it screwing us over? Do we have optimality guarantees?
In my case the % occurrence of the defect was very high and the False-Positive cost is also very high so my tool could provide value without being too stellar of a model.
How easy will it be to update your model if/when the downstream process changes?
At a previous job we had a process that relied heavily on visual inspection from employees. I often considered applying ML to certain inspection steps, but always figured it would be most useful for e.g. final inspection to avoid having to update the models frequently as the processes were updated.
I think I'm somewhat lucky in that with my product downstream processes are unlikely to change in a significant enough way to warrant "retraining" the model, but I guess that's probably the only way to handle that - retrain in the event of a significant process change. Our product stays fairly stable once it releases to production and the nature of the downstream processes is that they would have very little effect on the perceived severity of the defect at the final electrical test.
My only two misgivings about the program thus far: It is 1) pretty expensive and 2) geared towards working professionals rather than academics, but my employer is helping pay for a good chunk of the degree and I'm more interested in acquiring the skills and tools to go solve problems in industry as opposed to doing research.
Otherwise it has been great thus far. The program was attractive to me because it is somewhat marketed towards those that may not have a software background, but have problems in their industry that could benefit from a "proper" data science treatment. I've been referring to my application of the principles as "Six Sigma for the 21st Century" with managers/directors. I think the vast majority of HN would groan at that term, but it helps communicate the potential value to someone who has no technical background with software whatsoever (think old school manufacturing/operations types): Process improvement for environments with many variables that have practically unknowable inter-dependencies (as is the case with the project described in my original comment).
I don't think there's anything wrong the GP's achievement or post (it's all interesting stuff) but if something has not yet been implemented, it's worth nothing since there is "many a slip 'tween cup and the lip"