Supply Chain Technology Roundup: 3 Ways Augmented Reality Can Transform SCM

Supply chain is finally finding its way into the 21st century, with help  from a constantly evolving landscape of technologies and digital opportunities. Companies are now looking to the cloud, big data, blockchain, and other solutions to manage their end-to-end supply chains. By providing an added layer of real-time data and enhanced recognition capabilities to managers and workers, augmented reality could be one of the most valuable supply chain tools of all.  

Here are a few ways augmented reality can launch your supply chain into the future:


1)   Picking Optimization 

Warehouses are facing unprecedented labor shortages, and for a few companies robots are picking up some of the slack. But even highly-efficient machines can’t completely replace humans. What’s even more powerful than a warehouse bot? A warehouse employee with the optimized productivity offered by AR. 

This might be the warehouse of the future: Pickers see a “digital picking list” on a heads-up display. When a shopper selects an item, the display calculates the most efficient path through the warehouse, guides that person to the package, scans it as “picked” into the Warehouse Management System, and immediately directs the picker to the next closest package. How’s that for optimization?

AR picking software is already offering real-time object recognition, indoor navigation, and information to support workers and reduce the time needed for manual operations. For example, last year DHL rolled out “Vision Picking” smart glasses after trial runs showed a 15% increase in productivity. 


2)   Freight/Container Loading

Advanced software is already used in freight transportation for optimizing container selection and loading. Although these technologies automatically account for factors like size, dimensions, weight distribution, destination, and processing to help workers load freight optimally, they don’t have sufficient tools in place for reducing loading time itself.

That’s where AR devices come in.

Augmented reality could replace the need for a physical cargo list and load instructions. How? By giving workers a heads-up display of this information, including step-by-step instructions on how to most effectively load a container given the size, dimensions, and weight of the packages going into it. Container loading is an entirely hands-on job. Getting rid of clipboards and arming employees with AR devices could free up their hands and time, making the loading process faster than ever. 


3)   Logistics Support

When delivery trucks started to be equipped with GPS systems, it was a game-changer in how efficient logistics workers could be. AR systems almost seem like a natural next step in the continuing evolution of logistics. For the truck driver of the not-so-distant future, heads-up and windshield displays might provide instant suggestions for re-routing shipments, without causing significant distraction to drivers. AR displays can also show drivers critical information including cargo temperature (especially important when transporting medical devices or other fragile goods) and gasoline efficiency (which changes based on the weight of the truck).


Final Thoughts

By facilitating better worker engagement, allowing for real-time visibility of events, and helping planners envision scenarios, AR promises to have a bright future in supply chain. More and more businesses are investing in augmented reality technology that will be applicable to pressing business needs, including operations. For more about AR in practice, and the growing array of products being launched by companies like Microsoft and Apple, read our blog “Bringing Augmented Reality to Supply Chain.” 

Elementum News Desk

Elementum News Desk

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