• Gary Robinson

Synaptic Connections Newsletter 2019 Week#46

November 11, 2019 www.Synapticpackaging.com Image - Paris

Week#46 Good morning!  Welcome back to the office on a Monday.  Hopefully you have a fun and engaging week ahead.  What Sustainability initiatives are on your priorities?

This morning we are featuring an image of the Eiffel Tower.  This is a subtle reminder that the US has chosen to exit the Paris Agreement to lead solutions for climate change.  We’ll stay out of the politics of that decision, however clearly we are deeply passionate about Sustainability and seek to tackle these challenges through competitive innovation.  Our mission is clear, Sustainability is not going away, and the challenges will only continue to increase.  Getting ahead and being part of the solution is smart business.

Last week we introduced Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) to the topic of Sustainabilty.  The vision presented was embodied in decision making tools for tackling large and complex challenges.  Today, we will take a look at the ‘First Mover’ status with some examples were A.I. is starting to enter into the space of consumer packaged goods.  These examples are discrete and operationally driven, however provide a demonstration for how A.I. can be leveraged for commercial solutions advancing Sustainability.  Keeping with the style of this newsletter, intentional space is reserved for you to create your own Synaptic Connections to drive innovation.

Let’s go back to our prior chapter on “ReThink Waste”.  If you have been following the news articles in the bottom of Synaptic Connections you would have seen examples of A.I. emerging as a solution to valorize waste.  Today, we are going to take a look at two of those examples.

Consumer waste is complex.  Open a trash bag, dump it on a conveyor, and visualize a co-mingled stream of waste - messy right?  Now, let’s say we clean that up a little bit.  Open a bin of mixed consumer recyclables, and dump it on a conveyor.  Not as messy as a trash bag, however, still highly complex.  The challenge of sorting this mixture has been progressively optimized based on mechanical properties of the components.  For example - ferrous metal is pulled off with magnets, flexible bags are blown off with air bursts, small items fall through a screen, glass is busted and passed through screens.  Typically, corrugated and fiber is hand picked.  Plastics, and all the many derivatives of that term, are then left to go through a variety of sorting methodologies including density flotation.  As that quick example might suggest - there is a lot to this process, and it is quite expensive.  To further complicate the economics of recycling, plastics in particular, are highly subjective to contaminates.  Any cross-material contaminates or colors degrade the quality and value of the recycled plastic flake.  That contamination continues to cause down-stream quality issues and processing challenges for the converters.  To realize a closed loop vision, particularly for plastics, you need to secure a clean stream.  Enter A.I. as one path forward.

A.I. is now being introduced into the Material Recovery Facility (MRF).  The A.I. systems are being married up to ‘spider robots’.  The robot is fast moving, light weight, multi-axis pivot arm that is mounted above the conveyor.  The robot has an array of different sensors that can be used to view what is on the belt.  These sensors can include vision systems, near infrared, or a host of other advanced identifier technologies.  The A.I. presents the learning ‘brain’ behind the operation.  The A.I. system analyzes the different characteristics of the materials on the belt to target and extract the components.  This learning process includes geometric shape, color, spectrometer wave length, or visually reading labels and codes.  As the A.I. system learns it gets progressively better at identifying and extracting the targeted materials.

In a similar fashion, the food service industry is starting to integrate A.I. into trash cans.  The opportunity demonstrated here is to analyze the waste as it is placed into the trash can.  The system seeks to quickly determine the food type, and a mass calculation of food being wasted.  The data is being used for a variety of purposes, however, initial pilot programs are sending real-time feedback to the kitchen for adjustments to portion size and menu assortment by eliminating the least preferred items.

These first movers provide directional insights on opportunities to innovate and advance Sustainability.  How might your brand benefit by building solutions that work with these A.I. systems?  How might you benefit by conducting early proof-of-principal studies to get ahead, or to better quantify your current operational metrics?  

There is a lot of ‘Green Washing’ in the space of Sustainabilty.  We believe integrity will win the day.  When Big Data converges with Sustainability, the truth often gets revealed, and frequently becomes open for third party validation.  As a brand, it is important to understand these innovations are in the pipe-line, hook-up with them now, participate in leading the transition, and your customer will be motivated by your passion to make a meaningful impact.

Have a great week!

Packaging Sustainability//

Big Data Convergence//

ReThink Waste//

The purpose of this newsletter is to stimulate innovative thoughts and constructive dialogue through the lens of sustainability.  New subscribers can send an e-mail to the link below to sign-up. 

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