Caran d’Ache: AI change in a century-old company

Published on November 8, 2023 at 7:30 am.

A mineral aroma escapes the Caran d’Ache factory, a brand of pencils and writing instruments founded in 1915 in the canton of Geneva, Switzerland. “It’s the characteristic smell of graphite, cooked at 1,000 degrees before becoming mine”, explains Eric Vitus, director of research and development of the “color” activity of this family company, awarded the Léonard de Vinci Prize 2023. Created by the Château du Clos Lucé and the Les Hénokiens association, this award recognizes in particular the ability of “family businesses” to transmit know-how and innovate. In this sense, Caran d’Ache meets all the requirements.

“We typically talk about our single unit as a factory rather than a factory, because many phases of production cannot be industrialized,” he notes Carole Hubscher , the president of the board of directors of Caran d’Ache, specifying that “of the 35 steps necessary to make a pencil, many of them are still artisanal”. The truth is that the company with 340 employees and to 3,400 references sold In 90 countries, ancestral gestures and R&D have always coexisted.

Around 750 machines

As proof, we owe him the invention of the Fixpencil mechanical pencil, created in the 1950s, in response to the scarcity of cedar wood, the historic raw material for pencils. Another illustration of in-house industrial innovation, Caran d’Ache is home to no fewer than 750 machines, “some of which are manufactured by us”, says Eric Vitus. Concentrates of technologies, the result of investments that represent 12% of revenue (not disclosed), which have sometimes taken a turn towards artificial intelligence (AI). “On the production side, we are working on a quality control prototype for certain pens, via AI, for which we have high hopes,” says Caroline Charpier, general director of Caran d’Ache.

Inventory management automation

And the manager adds that, at other levels, “the acceleration, in recent years, of digitalization has naturally led to the use of AI integrative tools”. Here in the digitization of expense reports, there in the dematerialization of invoices and in the relationship with suppliers. While Caran d’Ache is already preparing its move, scheduled for 2027, to a new building of 35,000 square meters (compared to the current 25,000 square meters), AI is also focusing attention.

“Our new manufacturing project includes a fundamental transformation of our logistical processes , with widespread and centralized automation of the company’s inventory management, based on technological equipment that already integrates or will integrate artificial intelligence”, explains Caroline Charpier. Likewise, production lines at the new facility will be equipped with connected tools for predictive maintenance analysis purposes.

So many transformations that, according to Caroline Charpier “do not represent a threat because, if used well, AI is the right professional tool to highlight the qualities of teams”. It is precisely to make Caran d’Ache employees aware of these opportunities that a training course was implemented. upgrade skills . “Aimed at different audiences, this training aims to help some of our employees save time to dedicate themselves to reflections and actions with high added value”, highlights Caroline Charpier, remembering that, if they were aligned end to end, the volumes of pencils produced each day in Caran d’Ache would be equivalent to the Rome-Geneva distance.

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