CPG Partner Conversations: GE Digital uses AI to drive energy optimization

by Cobus van Heerden and Kevin McCurdy | on

Consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies face the challenge of driving sales and profit margins in a volatile market while chasing changing consumer trends. The CPG industry has an opportunity to harness artificial intelligence (AI) to stay ahead of today’s dynamic and competitive market. AI can dramatically impact the CPG industry in key areas, including demand forecasting and planning, personalization and consumer insights, supply chain optimization, quality control, product development, and customer service. To gain insight and inspiration, we’ve embarked on a series of conversations with executives from Amazon Web Services (Amazon Web Services) Partners to showcase their leadership and expertise in the use of AI in the CPG industry.

In the latest installment of our CPG Partner Conversations blog series, we talked to Cobus Van Heerden, Manufacturing Analytics Product Manager at GE Digital , an energy-ecosystem-focused subsidiary of General Electric that provides software and industrial Internet of Things (IoT) services to industrial companies. In this blog, Van Heerden shared his views on the importance of AI to support production and drive efficiencies across product design and make, move, and market life cycle.

Amazon Web Services: Help our readers understand your vantage point. What’s the space you play in and what type of CPG executives are you interacting with?

Cobus Van Heerden: GE Digital provides manufacturing optimization solutions across a variety of industries, for both process and discrete manufacturers. CPG is a key vertical for us. We regularly engage with manufacturing executives to understand which quality and efficiency metrics they are struggling with, then work with them to identify the root cause and implement countermeasures. Manufacturing leaders today are interested in how we are leveraging AI and ML [machine learning] in our solutions, and how it helps them drive their key performance indicators.

Amazon Web Services: Many companies across the CPG space have been managing through a period of unprecedented disruption. What have been the biggest challenges your consumer goods customers are facing during this recent period?

Cobus Van Heerden: Recently, it’s been a culmination of challenges. The first is supply chain disruptions. Things like asset, capacity and labor shortages, political instability, extreme weather, and human-caused incidents, like the blockage of the Suez Canal, have all disrupted supply chain operations on an unprecedented level. Next, is material shortages and price increases. Supply chain problems not only significantly impacted supply and demand, but sparked a domino effect, contributing to reduced material availability and increased volatility in import, export, producer, and consumer pricing. Another challenge facing consumer goods customers is talent and labor shortages. Given the widespread labor shortages throughout the F&B [food and beverage] and CPG industries, organizations are looking for ways to maintain or improve operational efficiency and product quality with fewer resources.

Rising pressure for companies to assess their environmental impact have made sustainability and zero-carbon emission goals a big focus for consumer goods customers. In fact, according to a Deloitte report , consumers, particularly Gen Zers, are showing increased concerns about environmental, social and governance [ESG] when purchasing products. Combined with global emission reduction goals and reporting requirements, this trend is driving more brands to prioritize ESG, especially sustainability initiatives. The last challenge is changing market demands. Shifting consumer preferences, for example demand for more simplified ingredient lists and sustainable products, as well as increased safety and traceability regulations like the Food Safety Modernization Act, are significantly impacting market demands.

Amazon Web Services: How do you see CPG firms leveraging AI and ML in response to these market dynamics and changes in consumer expectations?

Cobus Van Heerden: One of AI’s most powerful and valuable contributions to CPG is supporting production efficiency and energy optimization, something we’ve recently seen CPG firms explore. Leveraging this technology, companies can produce the right amount of product with quality. They can focus on critical production processes like producing products as efficiently as possible, avoiding unplanned downtime, and fine-tuning settings, all while optimizing energy consumption.

Amazon Web Services: The CPG industry is incredibly innovative. What AI and ML use cases do you see CPG firms leveraging to innovate? How do you see technology enhancing the way they make, move, or market their products?

Cobus Van Heerden: We’re seeing AI technology help CPG firms unlock efficiencies across product design and the make, move, and market life cycle. For example, analytics is helping enable raw material flexibility without compromising end-product quality, and both AI and analytics are helping reduce downtime while improving quality, throughput, and energy usage.

For F&B and CPG, manufacturers are applying AI/ML to improve product operations. At GE Digital, we focus on helping customers make efficient, sustainable products. Software solutions like Proficy CSense improve and optimize overall equipment effectiveness [OEE] and utilities (water, air, gas, electricity, steam) consumption in production operations. Continuous incremental improvements like these can add up to big savings—reinforcing the business case being made.

On top of this, deploying AI/ML applications to the cloud, or centrally managing on-premises or edge AI/ML applications remotely from the cloud, can provide scalability across multiple plants, and enable things like cross-plant analysis, comparison, best practices, and optimization.

Amazon Web Services: With access to AI and ML and new generative AI capabilities, how is your company working with CPG innovators to leverage these new technologies?

Cobus Van Heerden: GE Digital co-develops what’s called “outcomes maps” to determine the specific measures and metrics that our clients are aiming to deliver. Then, based on the outcomes map, we outline the priorities, taking into consideration the client’s digital transformation journey and the timing of deployment and implementation. At the end of the day, our priorities are the client’s priorities, meaning we’ll always put the client’s needs first. We won’t implement or recommend solutions unless the client is ready and has laid sufficient groundwork in their digital transformation to even be able to leverage the full benefits that AI can offer.

Our work with a food processor company is a prime example of how we’re helping CPG companies leverage AI/ML. In this case, the client wanted to avoid, or at least reduce, making bad quality product and unplanned downtime or stoppages. Analytics provided insights on why the lines may be stopping unexpectedly to preemptively fix equipment, so it doesn’t stop unexpectedly.

After one week of training, the quality engineers and technicians were able to use Proficy CSense to identify the most advantageous process settings for their “Golden Batch” in the fermentation process. With this information, the team was able to adjust the process so that performance improved.

Amazon Web Services: How do you think the CPG industry will look three years from now?

Cobus Van Heerden: I think AI will be increasingly adopted to drive efficiencies across product design and make, move, and market life cycle.

As a globally trusted industrial software vendor, GE Digital has a software portfolio that we believe is best positioned to help customers propel manufacturing production towards 100% efficiency with the fastest time to value. We do this by helping customers automate and optimize manufacturing production processes across the value chain. Through a combination of data integration, AI/ML, and real-time closed loop optimization and control, GE Digital can help customers drive up to 20% of efficiency gains on top of traditional operational technology (OT) software systems.

We believe that in the short term, artificial intelligence in F&B and CPG processing applications will lean further into optimizing OEE, producing the right amount of product with quality.

Optimizing, planning, and scheduling will also become increasingly important given the continual volatility in supply chains. CPG companies will further use optimization technologies including AI to revamp the planning and scheduling of production, maintenance activities and the efficient execution of operations. This will make food and beverage manufacturers more agile, adjusting when, where and how products are produced to improve efficiency and sustainability across the value chain.

Amazon Web Services: What makes you excited for the future of CPG?

Cobus Van Heerden: The potential for sustainable, efficient, and resilient manufacturing. I believe we’re already on the right path for this. As the CPG industry continues to gain greater visibility into production data by investing in and leveraging AI and ML, the industry will make big strides to decarbonize and optimize the generation, distribution, and utilization of energy for a stronger environment.

Amazon Web Services: Thanks for chatting with us, Cobus. We appreciate your insights and expertise.

We hope you enjoy our blog series. If you have questions for Cobus Van Heerden, GE Digital, or Amazon Web Services, please leave a comment on this blog. To learn more about GE Digital, get in touch on their contact page.

Contact an Amazon Web Services Representative to know how we can help accelerate your business.

Further Reading

  • CPG Partner Conversations: AI-powered planning with Anaplan for better business results
  • CPG Partner Conversations: Composable commerce leader Spryker – CPG’s future now
  • CPG Partner Conversations: Peak helps harness AI to drive efficiency and growth

Amazon Web Services Partner Spotlight

At GE Digital, our focus is clear: delivering software that accelerates a new era of energy. We deliver software that accelerates electrification and decarbonization across the energy ecosystem—how power is created, to how it is orchestrated, to how it is consumed. Using data, we transform how our customers solve their toughest challenges. By improving the energy ecosystem to be more intelligent and efficient, we’re helping create reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy for all.