Artificial intelligence (AI) could revolutionise the packaging line and fix the problems caused by full automation and human error, according to OAL head of innovation Jake Norman.

SwissCognitiveSpeaking at Label&Print 2018, part of Packaging Innovations 2018 in Birmingham, UK this year, Norman, alongside University of Lincoln research fellow Kjartan Gudmundsson, discussed how AI can be used in packaging systems to eliminate errors in date code printing, a problem that haunts the food sector like a spectre, costing the industry thousands every year.

“In 2015, 277 product recalls were associated with label and date code errors,” commented Norman. “That’s around 20% of total product recalls for the year.”

Removing pesky humans

Automation and technological solutions are nothing new to the packaging industry. Factories have increasingly begun to move towards full automation, removing humans from the equation with the goal of increasing efficiency and reducing human error. This automation, though, brings with it issues of its own.

“What’s frustrating is that there are lots of automated systems out there protecting lines but you still get these problems happening,” commented Norman.

“99.9% of the time the system will be working fine, but on occasion there are slip-ups. For instance you could have a printer that’s controlled by an automated system printing date codes, but when that printer breaks, a new printer would be rolled up into the line that might not be controlled by the system. In that situation, a wrong date could go through the factory without anyone ever verifying it.”

The current thinking is that a human is needed at the end of the supply chain to check for any errors that may have cropped up, but there is no guarantee that the human eye would be able to spot such a mistake. “The problem with people is that we get distracted, we get bored, and our brains will play tricks on us. We like to make shortcuts, and our brains will naturally correct things,” said Norman.

This is the area of the packaging production line where an AI replacement is being proposed. […]

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