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AI Integration in Manufacturing: Strategies for Implementation on Production Lines

As Doritos, Walkers, and Wotsits move swiftly along a conveyor belt at Coventry’s PepsiCo factory, the cacophony of whirring machinery is nearly deafening. Amidst the hustle and bustle of one of the UK’s leading crisp production hubs, it’s not only human workers straining to catch signs of potential machine failure.

In a bid to optimize efficiency and minimize downtime, sensors affixed to the equipment are tuned in, listening for subtle cues of hardware issues. These cutting-edge sensors, developed by tech company Augury and driven by artificial intelligence (AI), are now making their way across PepsiCo’s factories, a strategic move following a successful trial in the United States.

The deployment of such technology aligns with a broader trend in the manufacturing industry, where AI is increasingly recognized for its potential to enhance factory operations, reduce waste, and expedite product delivery. AI’s role spans the manufacturing process, from initial design to the final product reaching the shelves.

The ability of AI to handle and analyze vast amounts of data proves invaluable in predicting and mitigating potential disruptions. For manufacturers, even a minute of factory downtime can translate into significant financial losses, particularly during crucial periods such as the festive season or Black Friday.

Real-time process analysis, early problem detection, and leveraging historical data for preemptive maintenance are becoming commonplace features on factory floors. The sensors integrated into PepsiCo’s machinery have been meticulously trained on extensive audio data, enabling them to detect issues like conveyor belt wear and bearing fatigue by analyzing machine vibrations.

Saar Yoskovitz, CEO of Augury, emphasizes the extensive data analysis conducted, stating, “We have today over 300 million hours of machines that we’ve analyzed and monitored, and we can leverage all this data to create algorithms that know how to pinpoint specific patterns of different malfunctions.”

Beyond averting breakdowns, the AI-powered sensors offer a means to reduce energy consumption by ensuring machines operate optimally. This reduction in waste aligns with broader sustainability goals.

In addition to audio-based sensors, computer vision—a type of AI that trains machines to recognize objects in images and video—is making significant strides in factories worldwide. This technology is particularly adept at detecting product defects at scale, ensuring the minutest imperfections are identified as items traverse conveyor belts and sorting machines.

Alexandra Brintrup, Professor of Digital Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing, views AI’s impact on efficiency, predictive maintenance, and quality control as conventional applications. She anticipates more exciting prospects, such as capacity sharing between manufacturers and improved supply chain visibility.

AI’s ability to unravel the complexities of supply chain networks addresses longstanding challenges, offering insights into suppliers’ identities and locations. This increased transparency benefits both companies, revealing potential bottlenecks, and consumers, providing information about a product’s origin and materials used.

Nevertheless, the rising adoption of AI in manufacturing prompts questions about its impact on workers. Some companies are exploring AI applications for worker safety, using machine learning and computer vision to monitor factory camera feeds for potential threats or accidents. Wearable AI devices, such as exoskeletons, have been introduced in warehouses to prevent strain or injuries from repetitive heavy lifting.

David Schwartz, Global Vice President of PepsiCo Labs, sees Augury’s sensors and AI more broadly as tools to enhance value for workers and customers. Rather than solely future-proofing factories, he emphasizes how these technologies improve efficiency to meet the evolving needs of people and customers on a daily basis.

by Paul Britton

Full-time CBG author covering everything from business to wellbeing news, in Cyprus. and abroad.

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