With the value of exports in 2016 worth THB 127.599 billion, the plastic industry is among the most vital to the Thai economy. This is mainly due to the role it plays in other related industries, including the automotive industry and the manufacturing of electrical appliances, electronic devices, apparel, packaging, furniture, office supplies, stationery, toys, sport equipment, and construction equipment. However, information on the production technology adopted in this industry is rather scarce compared to other businesses.
Adisorn Tuantranont, Ph.D., Director and Senior Researcher at the Thai Organic & Printed Electronics Innovation Center (TOPIC) under the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), sat down with us to talk about new frontiers of possibility in the world of the plastic industry that artificial intelligence, commonly known as AI, would open up with its unprecedented efficiency and capacity for handling complex industry.
What is a simple definition of artificial intelligence?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a technology that can analyze data, synthesize new knowledge, and keep learning, much like the human brain. As it recursively acquires and uses new information, AI will achieve greater accuracy in its tasks, just as humans become smarter as they learn. However, one major difference is that the human brain slows down as we age, while AI can process information faster as time goes by.
“Plastic business owners must be prepared and learn which groups of workers or processes AI will replace.”
What has put AI in the limelight across so many disciplines?
The time is ripe for AI. Various technological factors have advanced to the point where the environment is conducive to its rise. Computers have greater processing power, and sensors are now smaller and more accurate. Similarly, communication systems in general have become faster, creating massive data sets known as big data, which we can now take advantage of. Therefore, AI has found itself in the center of attention, especially in the past few years as insights derived from AI have proven to be practical and useful in increasing actual business value.
In what spheres can AI already be seen?
An example that we are probably most familiar with is mobile photography, in which processing chips can enhance photos to better correspond our preferences. Also, social media platforms are now collecting information of the websites you visit and items you browse through while shopping online, so that they can present products that you will like better. To the surprise of many, AI has already applied to medical care, particularly in X-ray film reading and MRI data analysis, to reduce fatigue-induced human errors and increase both accuracy and productivity.
In addition, AI is also now used in driverless cars to process signals from sensors around the car as well as those on the road to prevent the vehicle from grazing road curbs or crashing into a pedestrian or another car.
“AI will speed up and intensify changes, making them more intelligent. Its effects will definitely be felt across different organizations and on the national level.”
What is the role of AI in the plastic industry in the future?
AI can enhance productivity and increase energy efficiency in plastic plants. With image processing capabilities, it can also help reduce human errors in defect detection and quality control as well as speed up the process. AI will also play a vital role in making forecasts about the volume of products that should be manufactured at a given time to correspond with the demand, which helps save energy. In addition, as AI can detect irregularities in machinery quickly, maintenance can be carried out at the right time to prevent further damage, possible downtime, and unnecessary waste of resources. AI has already been adopted in plastic plants overseas, where it helps design plastic injection molds right from the start to obviate the need for prototypes and allow the resulting molds to be used right away. The same applies to the energy management system in a plant; it is vital to have AI, to serve as an assistant that can conduct analysis accurately, offer suggestions, and help inform decisions in order to optimize energy consumption in the factory.
Message to entrepreneurs in the plastic industry
Plastic business owners must be prepared and learn which groups of workers or processes AI will replace, so that they can enhance their competitive capacity both in terms of quality and production capacity as well as reduce waste and defects. In addition, they should also offer training to equip their employees with data processing skills. While computers will handle data management, it is humans who will be teaching computers how to pick out useful data. Furthermore, as robots and automobiles in the future might feature more plastic parts and fewer steel parts, we might see a rise in the demand for durable, high-quality, lightweight plastics. It is very important for entrepreneurs to prepare their production to meet this demand.
In addition, everyone should recognize that jobs in the future will be very different in nature. AI will speed up and intensify digital transformations, making them more intelligent. Its effects will definitely be felt across different organizations and on the national level. Those with more data will hold more power. That is why many countries are making serious efforts to come out on top in the field of AI. Countries with a larger amount of data will have more advanced AI. China’s leaders have stated that because the country has the largest population in the world, AI will be its flagship technology.
As AI keeps advancing, where does that leave us?
While many fret that they may find themselves unemployed and replaced by computers in the future, there are a number of jobs where machines cannot replace humans, such as designing, craftsmanship that requires advanced skills or high precision, and services. This is because we would rather interact with humans rather than machines. Therefore, we will need to focus more attention on developing soft skills.
In fact, humans are simply incredibly advanced AI that has been developing through ages. Computers may appear threateningly advanced in the future, but not more so than humans.
As we enter an age where AI is fully integrated into different industries, it will be very important for us, no matter who you are, to keep abreast of technological advances, broaden our horizons, keep an open mind for new possibilities and opportunities, and prepare ourselves for upcoming changes.
“In fact, humans are simply incredibly advanced AI that has been developing through ages. Computers may appear threateningly advanced in the future, but not more so than humans.”