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Artificial Intelligence: Future of Laundry Operations? (Part 1)

Difference between artificial intelligence, automation

CHICAGO — Artificial intelligence.

Most people have heard the phrase, but what does it mean, exactly?

David Netusil, manager-sales support and marketing for laundry equipment manufacturer JENSEN USA, says, “We simply define AI as ‘the ability to perform typical human intelligence tasks such as visual perception and decision-making.’”

“On a systems level, AI is the decision-making process of automated devices based a series of inputs or sensors to achieve a successful or desired output,” adds Ed Kirejczyk, president of laundry equipment manufacturer Sea-lion America Company.

What about artificial intelligence in a laundry operation?

Bill Brooks, director of customer solutions and business development for laundry equipment manufacturer Alliance Laundry Systems, which focuses on on-premises laundry (OPL) machinery, says AI is defined as technology used to learn, plan and problem-solve a productive laundry operation.

“An on-premises laundry (OPL) is not a great setting for expensive robotics, but it is a very good example of how analytic data can provide great operational savings,” he points out.

“In the laundry, (AI) could be a shuttle of a tunnel washer system making the decision of what dryer to choose to transfer its load,” Kirejczyk adds.

“On a machine or device level, AI is the intelligent learning of processes through a collection of data compiled by the running of algorithms. In the laundry, this could be a machine collecting data on its own operations to improve its performance.”

“Artificial intelligence is a broad term but in general it is referring to automating tasks that would normally require human intelligence to accomplish,” says Carol Tyler, director of marketing for Chicago Dryer Co., a provider of separating, feeding, ironing and folding flatwork finishing equipment. “Robotics, for instance, to accomplish these tasks will be one of the technologies laundries will be considering in the future.”

AI VS. AUTOMATION

The difference between automation and AI can be subtle or vast, Tyler says. Automation indicates the replacement of human tasks via automated equipment. AI suggests computerized systems that replicate human thought.

“Visual recognition would be a good example of AI—advanced electronic linen inspection systems, for instance, that grade linen quality and will reject sub-standard linen based on programmed criteria are already in existence,” she shares. “The technology employed is a form of AI and can perform these tasks better and faster than humans can.

“Linen that is unacceptable to the customer will then be removed from the inventory and eliminated or repurposed, making laundries more efficient and creating a higher level of customer satisfaction. Therefore there is legitimate value to this technology and it is affordable for most.”

Tyler goes on to say that predictive maintenance, data recording systems and automated feeding of towels into small-piece folders are forms of automation technology that cross the threshold into AI.

“We’ve had automation in laundries for decades,” says Netusil. “This is simply the placement of machinery to perform a repetitive human task that requires no visual perception or decision-making process—for example, manually feeding a flatwork ironer versus the use of an automated spreader/feeder. 

“AI, on the other hand, is the placement of machinery to perform repetitive human tasks that requires visual perception or a decision-making process—for example, the use of a linen scanning system, like Jenscan Plus, which uses high-speed, hi-res cameras to perform a visual quality inspection of a piece of linen looking for stains, tears or imperfections.” 

According to Netusil, the system can be “taught” what each piece of linen is and decide what is acceptable based upon the customer’s requirements. 

“Once the system has analyzed the data, which only takes milliseconds, it decides how that piece will be handled; whether it is acceptable or whether it is a reject,” he says. “Without a scanning system, a human at the feed end of the ironer is required to visually inspect the piece linen and decide whether to accept or reject that piece. 

“The issue with human intervention is that each human can have a different opinion of what’s acceptable and what’s not. AI can be taught the acceptable parameters, removing the human opinion/intervention.”

Essentially, AI eliminates the human component, opinion and error, to certain tasks in a laundry operation. 

Check back Tuesday for Part 2 on AI benefits.