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Artificial Intelligence Solves Process Problems

Foundation for Research, Science and Technology

Artificial intelligence software known as neural networks is being used to analyse operations in New Zealand factories, thanks to work by Lower Hutt engineering consultancy Process Developments.

Blake Fieldes of Process Developments says New Zealand industries have previously used high-cost neural network software for process control, "but low-cost software similar to the packages used for sharemarket analyses can also be used to solve process problems".

The neural network software uses historical data to develop a model that relates ingredients such as raw materials and operating conditions, to outputs such as the cost of energy.

The project to develop the company's software for process performance analysis was supported by Technology New Zealand, the Government agency that helps business to research new products, processes and services.

Dr Fieldes says the model works by pattern recognition. When it is presented with a new set of ingredient conditions it effectively says: "Hello, I've seen those sorts of conditions before in the historical data, so I expect the energy cost to be this value.”

As an example, the production manager of a New Zealand company asked Process Developments to investigate why the company's annual power bill had risen by $1 million. Traditional - statistical - methods of analysing the production data weren't picking up why the power bill had increased.

"The great advantage of a neural network model is that it ranks the inputs, telling us what's important and what's not," Dr Fieldes says.

"It delivers this information much faster than statistical modelling.

"For the power bill problem, the neural network model showed us why costs had increased and in a six-month trial after it was developed, it successfully predicated energy costs without further modelling work.

"With the software available today this sort of modelling exercise costs only $6000 to $10,000. We've got a powerful new tool for process performance analysis at an affordable cost.”


Contact: * Dr Blake Fieldes, Process Developments Ltd, 65 Waterloo Rd, Lower Hutt. Ph: (04) 569-3852. Fax (04) 566-5601. Email:

* Philip Mowles, Technology New Zealand at the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, Ph: (04) 498-7845 or 025 815-426. Website:

Prepared on behalf of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology by I D Communications. Contact: Ian Carson (04) 477-2525.


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