The business world is buzzing with discussions on how Artificial Intelligence (AI) could completely overhaul operations, delivering increased efficiency.
Vendors in the wood products industry have talked about “machine learning” and “vision training” programs, as well as other complex algorithms that seem to be precursors to a software-based intelligence capable of mimicking the rapid, flexible and creative decision making of the human mind. The stage is set for AI to revolutionize business for those who use its capabilities effectively. Our industry is one that stands to benefit, potentially more so than others.
The low-hanging fruit that is often discussed, and is readily apparent, are efficiencies in the office environment. Multimedia AI programs like Midjourney can generate beautiful digital artwork, as evidenced by the images in this post. Writing tasks can be offloaded by asking ChatGPT specific questions related to any topic. Even seemingly complex tasks like programming can be automated. According to a GitHub survey, 92% of programmers are using AI tools. Working with AI takes direct human intervention and effort to generate meaningful outcomes, but AI is in its infancy and will only get better.
As a sector deeply rooted in natural resources, the wood products industry stands to reap substantial benefits from AI. Given the organic and natural attributes of our fiber inputs and outputs, many characteristics of our products do not allow for clear and concise decision making. For example, while it might be relatively easy to determine if a manufactured widget falls outside dimensional tolerances, existing technology has grappled with the challenge of identifying nuanced imperfections like excessive roughness or white specks in veneer sheets during machine vision grading.
Software programs in various industries monitor inventory levels, enabling just-in-time reordering of components, which minimizes cash outlays while ensuring timely delivery. AI could potentially analyze our intricate timber supply chain to offer insights into sustainable forest inventory management. This could involve prioritizing the removal of dead timber, reducing forest fire risks and maximizing timber growth, while still providing sufficient volume to the mills. Additionally, AI may uncover higher-value end-user markets not immediately apparent to sales teams.
The opportunities are legion, and we can only speculate on what the future holds. We do know that for AI to be a productive tool in our industry we need to be able to provide quality data. AI responses are only as good as the questions and information provided—following the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ principle.
Our focus is currently channeled into the collection of crucial Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and transferring that data to the cloud. With tools such as Microsoft’s PowerBI, we empower our managers with information that can be tailored visually to their needs. It’s our hope that with this accessibility, we are poised to harness the revolutionary potential of AI as it unfolds in our business.
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