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Supply Chain Management

How AR can benefit your supply chain

Augmented Reality is booming. Leading companies have already implemented AR in their supply chain. This article aims to provide clarifying examples on how this up-and-coming technology might benefit you.
Casimir Morobé

The Pokémon Go hype, where players ran around the streets chasing imaginary monsters on their mobile phone, has long blown over. But Augmented Reality (AR), the technology it used, is booming. Leading companies have already implemented AR in their supply chain. This article aims to provide clarifying examples on how this up-and-coming technology might benefit you.

What is Augmented Reality again?

As the name suggests, AR leads to an augmentation of your reality. This is done by overlaying computer-generated information onto your vision of the real world. This can be done using AR-glasses, mobile phones, tablets or even advanced windscreens. AR is extremely useful in combination with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). All three of these technologies are slowly finding their way into everyday supply chains.

Smart glasses for warehouse workers

An illustrative, real-world example of this technology can be found in warehouses, where workers are being guided by AR-glasses.The overlaying information helps workers reduce the time needed to find specific parcels. This is done by projecting imaginary trajectories on the warehouse floor that guide the workers towards their next parcel. While looking at the desired parcel, these smart glasses also inform employees about its contents and provide appropriate handling instructions.

According to a study by international parcel deliverer DHL, this has effectively reduced errors by as much as 40%, improved safety conditions and steepened the learning curve for new employees and seasonal workers. According to a study by VIL, productivity gains of up to 25% are attainable when AR-glasses are introduced in a manual picking environment. DHL has already implemented this “Vision Picking” technology worldwide resulting into average productivity gains of 15% and halved training times for new employees. Find out more information in DHL’s press release ‘DHL Supply Chain makes smart glasses new standard in logistics’.

Streamlining the transportation process

Also transportation can greatly benefit from AR. According to this same study by DHL, 40%-60% of a driver’s time is spent locating the parcel to deliver at a specific stop. Another frequent bottleneck in the transportation process is the freight loading itself.

Using AR , these time-consuming processes can be streamlined, thus reducing precious delivery times. The loading process is optimized by providing the loader with real-time instructions on their AR-glasses indicating which pallet to take next and where to place it in the vehicle. Through AR-glasses or AR-windshields the driver can see what parcel is to be delivered next and how to handle it. This way, the driver might know he has to deliver a fragile package, with a signature and where the package is located in the truck, before even getting out of the vehicle. Implementing all of these techniques will drastically cut your last mile delivery time.

Turning weeks into days

For Airbus, Augmented Reality is also business-as-usual. The aircraft manufacturer relies on AR for its construction and inspection processes. Airplanes need rigorous quality controls that can be very time-consuming. Since 2011, the company uses hand-held devices that display a 3D model on top of the real aircraft, providing valuable insight into size and positioning of parts. The inspection time of 60,000 brackets used on an Airbus A380 fuselage, for instance, has dropped from three weeks to just three days (read more in this article ‘Virtual reality with real benefits’ at Airbus Newsroom).

Real-time & On Location Visualization

A last example of AR is IKEA Place, an app developed by the Swedish furniture multinational, where you can choose any item of their catalog and project it to your own living room or whatever space you’re in. This AR-application has numerous possibilities for other industries. Warehouse design for example, can be simplified and visualized using this tool.

Start looking for opportunities today

So although AR is often written off as science fiction, it is very much alive. Large cost reductions and quality improvements have been realized by companies who pioneered the technology. Now is the time for mass-adoption. It’s a very versatile technology and the hardest part is figuring out how it can benefit you. Quality control, maintenance, inventory picking, warehouse design, return processes and last mile delivery are some straightforward examples. Discard the idea that AR is something of the future and start looking for opportunities in your supply chain today.

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