How AI can reshape the packaging industry - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Katie King is an artificial intelligence (AI) expert and an author. During the Gallus Experience Days held from 21-23 June 2023 at the Gallus’ brand new Experience Centre in St Gallen, King, in her keynote, said, “You don’t go out of business because AI comes along, you go out of business if, as an industry, you can’t take advantage of AI’s role in smart, connected printing. There are different ways that AI will reshape the packaging industry, King says, while sharing ten tips for how to maximise its potential in your business. Read on…

25 Jun 2023 | By Noel D'Cunha

ChatGPT and other chatbots have been in the news recently, making artificial intelligence (AI) a big topic. At the Gallus Experience Days, too, there were two keynote speakers who shared their insights on AI and printing technology.

AI expert and author Katie King says that AI-powered printing has the potential to reduce waste, improve design efficiencies, optimise supply chains, and benefit printers through enhancement in predictive maintenance.

There are different ways that AI will reshape the packaging industry.

King shared ten tips on how to maximise its potential in your business:

Start with a Need: In this day and age, businesses can no longer afford to embark on vanity AI projects and adopt shiny new tools just for the sake of it. AI adoption needs to be strategic and needs to generate real value and impact for the organisation. Before you even think about exploring the tools and vendors out there, you need to identify what you are looking to accomplish. You may find that AI is, in fact, the right solution to your problems, or you may find that you can achieve your objectives another way. In either case, you will have ensured you are on the correct path and one step closer to properly addressing the real needs of your business.

Enhance your processes: One of the most common needs most packaging businesses will identify is the need to enhance efficiencies. AI is fantastic for streamlining processes in order to do that. It can not only automate certain activities to alleviate pressures on your human staff, but can also help identify opportunities for cost and time savings throughout the entire production journey from initial design to completion.

Avoid costly setbacks: AI can help keep the entire process running smoothly through the use of predictive maintenance. AI-enabled manufacturing equipment can monitor your machinery in real time to flag any potential maintenance issues and alert human staff before any costly or time-consuming errors can occur. Machinery maintenance issues can often disrupt the entire supply chain, resulting in major setbacks that ultimately impact your bottom line. Having a 24/7 watchdog can help keep things on track.

King: AI adoption needs to be strategic and needs to generate real value and impact for the organisation

Make fewer mistakes: ‘Computer vision’ is a form of computer science in which AI is trained to assess an image to spot anomalies, irregularities, and patterns. We often see this with facial recognition technology, such as the one we use to unlock our smartphones with only our faces. Using computer vision for packaging processes, AI can be trained to identify potential mistakes, errors, or imperfections during manufacturing processes. This helps with quality assurance and prevents flawed or defective products from making their way to your customers. There is no need to continue relying on just the human eye for this. AI can elevate the level of attention to detail in a way that could ultimately save you time and money.

Manufacture leaner: You might find that adopting AI enables your business to streamline your entire manufacturing process, so much so that it becomes much leaner in general. Automation may be able to cut down the steps needed to produce your products, use less materials, or reduce the amount of time it takes to bring an idea from conception to production. Through machine learning, AI is getting smarter all the time, and the more time it spends within your business, the better and more effective it can become. Give it time to hit its stride and follow where it leads you.

Produce better products: AI is also a great listener and is incredibly useful for analysing massive amounts of customer data to unearth insights into the needs, wants, and preferences driving the consumer marketplace. Drawing on these insights enables you to produce better products that better satisfy customer desires. AI-informed design leads to better products and less trial and error in R&D. Do not take these insights for granted. Learning from your customers via AI-enabled data analysis will help you to become much more customer-centric in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Boost sustainability: Of course, making smarter design and inventory choices will also reduce waste, thus shrinking your business’s environmental footprint. Sustainability has become a top priority for businesses, and their customers alike, and both parties are increasingly acting on these values. Customers are choosing to spend their money on products and with companies that prioritise sustainability, while businesses aim to keep the promises in their statements of purpose and keep up with sustainability targets set by governments and other regulatory bodies. AI makes it possible to identify ways to reduce waste, conserve resources, and make smarter choices throughout the supply chain. This is an often overlooked but incredibly beneficial perk of adopting AI in manufacturing.

Keep a human in the loop: But AI should not be left to its own devices. Contrary to popular myth, AI is not an all-intelligent technology. It cannot do the same things we can do as people. It is a specialised technology that is extremely good at completing the tasks it is created for, but that is where its capabilities end. The AI that is spotting product irregularities on your assembly line is not the same AI that is driving your autonomous vehicle, even if they both use computer vision. Yet you could check products during your workday and then go drive your car home afterwards easily and without even having to think twice about it. If AI cannot match our intelligence in general, then it should not be trusted to be infallible. Mistakes do happen. Keeping a human in the mix helps to prevent the likelihood of these mistakes having any major impact on productivity.

Katie King with her book 'AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing'

Invest in upskilling: For this oversight to be successful, you must ensure that your people have the necessary technical and non-technical capabilities. The human-technology partnership will rely on each party successfully executing what they are able to do best. On the machine side, this will be any task that can be routinised, is data-driven, or follows set parameters. Humans will need to fill the gaps technology leaves behind or cannot yet replicate, which will largely include specialised niches or things requiring emotional intelligence, creativity, or strategy. This may require upskilling or reskilling on your behalf or your people to ensure all of your bases are covered. You can even use AI to help your people prepare for AI, with many HR teams’ learning and development function adopting adaptive learning platforms that make it possible to tailor necessary training to each individual staff member. However you choose to learn, it is crucial that you figure out which skills will be most valuable moving forward and work to develop them.

Track your progress: The definition of success will vary depending on each business’s unique challenges, identified needs, and approach. That said, it is still important to determine what success will look like for you. Is it ‘hard dollar’ gains such as increased sales, higher revenue, etc., or ‘soft dollar’ gains in your reputation or customer satisfaction? What will it take for you to deem your AI endeavours successful? Know what that ideal looks like before your adoption journey gets fully underway, and keep track of it throughout. You could use a tool like the Scorecard for Success featured in my book to help with benchmarking, or develop one of your own with your team.