Can you comment more about pairing IoT with AI?
Collins: What everyone thinks is trendy and hot about IoT is machine-to-machine connectivity, but, in this case, we're talking machine-to-machine and machine-to-human connectivity. Just as the Internet is a system of computers and servers all talking to each other, IoT is devices talking to each other. It doesn’t necessarily mean cloud connectivity, unless that’s what the customer wants. IoT simply enables connectivity and communication between devices, things, and people.
Arguably, we're making boxes talk to systems and pallets and making all of it talk to humans. With Edge IoT, we're talking about lowering latency, communication time and bandwidth, which makes things a lot faster and a lot more responsive.
AI takes all that connection and communication to the next level by allowing it to have some form of intelligence to make decisions.
Injecting AI into the equation allows the pallet to tell the conveyor system to speed up or slow down depending on the types of packages they may be moving, or because the person who's loading the pallet is faster or slower than their peers. That's how you leverage both of these technologies together.
Where that starts can vary depending on the customer's need and use case for their specific situation. IoT can be and is used throughout the warehouse, in packaging machines, robotic sorting machines, conveyors, etc., that are connected and communicating.
What further AI activity do you expect in your installs and generally in packaging?
Collins: We see machine vision being used at every point of the process, throughout the entire distribution warehouse, and all the way back to the manufacturing. We already have clients using this same technology for a variety of different applications. Palletizing was just the overlooked “last mile” of the manufacturing and distribution process because people tend to think that process can’t be automated and/or that it’s too expensive. At the end of the day, this is just another machine-vision use-case.
In our minds, machine vision can solve all sorts of different use-cases that have never been thought of before, helping both humans and robots make better decisions. We're trying to make any and all equipment intelligent; vision is just another way of doing it.
So, we are taking all sorts of different sensors, applying logic, AI if necessary, and making things smarter and more capable of understanding how to optimize themselves. We're giving machines the ability to understand their health to trigger alerts about whether or not they require maintenance, to make decisions about whether to speed up or slow down to extend the life of equipment.
For our major pork processing client, for example, we’re giving intelligence to the chillers they have throughout the warehouse by installing a variety of sensors to monitor the warehouse as well as the chillers. With those sensors and AI, the chillers themselves are monitoring their own efficiency and making decisions like raising their temperature slightly to reduce the possibility of failure until the next scheduled maintenance.
What’s been the interest in AI?
Collins: Interest in the AI capabilities of ADLink Edge has been very high. We already had several customers before Pack Expo, and our “Gamification of AI” demo at Pack Expo was a huge hit for us. We drew a great crowd not only because of how we “game-ified” the pallet loading process for our demo, but also because everyone has the same issue with palletization: it’s either too slow or too inaccurate. Through the game-style demo, we were able to show people how fast and accurate the palletization process can be with a technology that’s very non-intrusive. They could see that we’re not changing anything about their actual pallet loading process. Since Pack Expo we’ve been actively engaged with over 40 different clients, many of whom are partnering on ADLink Digital Experiments, which is our approach to getting started with any of our solutions. Digital Experiments determine the lowest software and hardware costs that yield the highest return specific to a client’s particular situation, so they can be successful with their machine vision deployment.
What’s the most common question about the AI?
Collins: People ask how expensive it is and we often get questions about security.
AI is actually less expensive for this process than you might imagine. It has to be, because palletization is one of the leanest processes. So, we make it incredibly affordable—and it’s scalable. We design all of our solutions thinking two or three steps ahead, so a warehouse can install ADLink Edge now and easily go to full automation in the future with no need to rip-and-replace. It has a very long lifecycle as just one part of a fully automated distribution warehouse.
The other concern with security is usually centered on companies wary of their data being sent to the cloud. We specialize in the use of data at the edge. We can run machine vision AI at the pallet or even on the camera if we have to, and that eases a lot of concerns and fears since everything remains self-contained and secure at the customer site. We are not sending anything anywhere. Now, if the client wants us to send information or data to the cloud, we can certainly support that. But we are effectively selling a self-contained edge-based solution that does not require cloud connectivity. So, from a security perspective, that is a huge value-add.
What projects are you working on that our packaging audience would find of interest?
Collins: A couple interesting applications: we're currently working with a client for packaging automation of cold storage meat pallets (lamb processing facility) helping them to improve their pallet manifest inventory, reduce spoilage, and load pallets faster. We're also talking with a food manufacturer to help them determine the correct fill levels of each spice container (think cooking spices like basil, oregano, thyme, etc.) as they come down the filling line.
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A concentrated assembly of assorted packaging technology can be found PackEx Toronto June 4-6, 2019, where innovative ideas in containers and design, the latest machinery and automation solutions and free education at Centre Stage will be available. For more information, visit PackEx Toronto. ___________________________________________________________________________________