The introduction of multiple generative AI platforms this past year means packaging designers can speed up conceptualization and versioning, and manufacturers can make their operations more resilient to labor challenges, according to speakers at the IME East conferences this month.
While the packaging industry is no stranger to incorporating technology, such as digitizing the consumer experience through QR code labeling, generative AI can change behind-the-scenes processes.
Since OpenAI introduced chatbot ChatGPT — which can respond to questions and generate written content — at the end of 2022, the artificial intelligence research lab has repeatedly rolled out updated editions and lowered costs. Google, Amazon and cybersecurity companies are among those boosting their own investments in generative AI development.
“Graphic designers at some point can be replaced. Copywriters, executive directors — this is happening everywhere in business,” said Evelio Mattos, creative director of packaging at IDP Direct and host of the Packaging Unboxd podcast. For now, ChatGPT, Midjourney and other AI tools can assist packaging designers in valuable ways.
For example, working in Midjourney, a tool that debuted in mid-2022 to generate images from text descriptions, can expedite the creation of initial mockups so a client can narrow down what sort of packaging design they want. “I think being able to create different styles quickly that you can react to and that your client can react to is the superpower that AI has given you today,” Mattos said at EastPack, one of the IME East events. ChatGPT can also be leveraged to come up with effective prompts that can then be copied and pasted into Midjourney to achieve desired results.
Some processes would take humans a few weeks to create a rendering of the same quality. Designers can even take the technology’s sketch and improve upon it, said Gene Portnoy, the founder and creative director of design agency Work and Company, also speaking on optimizing workflows with AI.
Because Midjourney has evolved so quickly, “the quality of the images have actually gotten better today than they were, like, four weeks ago,” Mattos said. Given where the technology is now, “imagine what's going to happen in the next two or three years,” Portnoy said.
In a separate ChatGPT panel through the conferences’ advanced manufacturing program, leaders experimenting with generative AI highlighted its potential applications. As manufacturing sectors face labor and hiring challenges, it’s valuable to better document processes and thereby reduce the amount of manufacturing floor knowledge that only certain employees harbor from years of experience, speakers explained. ChatGPT can be trained on internal assets and query a company’s documents to help establish process documentation to increase workforce resiliency and get new workers up to speed faster.
Another way to leverage AI and related technology is with digital twins — a form of virtual modeling or computer simulations — for optimizing a packaging line or assessing how recycled plastic might be incorporated or function in a product.
While many AI applications remain aspirational, machine learning applications are very much here today, said Rob States, a principal at Stress Engineering Services, during a sit-down Q&A with Packaging Digest Executive Editor Lisa McTigue Pierce. For example, an ML-driven tool could be used to check correct assembly.
Having good inputs for models — whether related to material, molding, color or sterilization — is key, States said, in terms of understanding impacts to product function.
In the future, packaging development might involve automated tools that consider factors such as costs, sustainability and startup time to come up with an optimal packaging solution. Any changes needed after launch could be checked digitally prior to a line trial “and actually speed up development,” States said.
Disclosure: IME East and EastPack are run by Informa, the owner of Packaging Dive’s publisher, Industry Dive. Informa has no influence over Packaging Dive’s coverage.