When it comes time to choose a supply chain services provider, you’ll find yourself with a number of questions to be answered. From service level agreements to supply chain pricing formulation, you’re likely to have a laundry list of criteria for each provider to fulfill before you can create a shortlist. Continue reading How to Evaluate a Provider’s Supply Chain Pricing
Rapidly advancing technology and supply chain management go hand in hand. Most of the articles we write here seem to touch on new tech in one way or another, whether directly with warehouse drones, or indirectly in terms of consumer behavior as more and more of us live and buy online.
Even so, the idea of futuristic electronic overlays integrating with normal human vision still seems more at home with the Terminator movies than it does with terminating inefficiencies in the supply chain.
But early versions of such displays, more commonly referred to as “Augmented Reality (AR)” by those in the field, already live in our smartphones, and it won’t be long before they find their place in the supply chain.
Supply Chain AR at Work and Play
The leisure applications of augmented reality have been first to roll out, as products like Google Glass and even existing smartphone apps work to add contextual information to what we see and hear. When you snap a picture and it prompts contextual information from Wikitude, or you use Shazam to identify the music you’re listening to while out shopping, that’s early stage AR technology at work.
And even at our own work, around the warehouse and out on the road as products move from A to B, supply chain augmented reality is not far from becoming, well, a reality!
Fleet Owner last month offered an interesting breakdown of the potential for the technology in the trucking industry, demonstrating just how close some of the applications are. As they explain, with “consumer-ready AR products to be launched over the next 12 months,” devices designed specifically for the workplace are likely to be with us in the next two or three years.
How might supply chain professionals make use of augmented reality? Consider these scenarios:
Product and cargo information is currently held, at best, on a handheld device, or even stuck on a less portable laptop or desktop computer. Handsfree wearable devices could free workers to gain critical information on each package, such as contents, weight, storage location and stock levels, to improve loading, manage inventory, or reduce handling damages.
New employees spend a lot of time poring over manuals and training guides. Having those available as a task is undertaken would aid learning “on the job” and possibly result in less of a learning curve.
Similarly, when the kind of custom packaging that we undertake requires a certain look and feel, images of the finished package could easily be overlayed alongside the actual to guide assembly.
Reduce workplace dangers by identifying dangerous materials or areas and warning the user ahead of time.
Warehouses can be tough places to navigate. Having seamless access to product location information and directions to that point could add up to significant time savings.
Even more encouraging is the fact that the privacy concerns plaguing consumer AR products will be vastly reduced when it comes to the private workplace, allowing the technology to roll out based purely on use benefits rather than social norms.
So, don’t be surprised if you see warehouse workers with all kind of gadgets and gear on your next visit!
The phenomenon is rarely far from the headlines, however, and more logistics professionals are beginning to analyze the effect that drone technology could have, from internal warehouse management to external distribution.
While the latter has been widely derided as a pipe dream, at least in the near term, due to FAA restrictions and very real concerns over safety, the former may be closer than you think.
The use of drones to improve internal storage operations isn’t such a leap when we consider the existing automation within warehouses and along assembly lines. In fact Amazon, the pioneer of publicity-seeking drones late last year, already has drones at work within its own warehouse infrastructure.
Although we tend to look to the skies when we consider drone technology, that’s more media hype than reality. In some cases flying drones will have uses within the warehouse environment, but the most immediate applications will be for ground drones that can connect up routine tasks.
Some of the suggested areas for drone use in internal supply chain operations include:
Simple A to B product relocation for automated assembly processes,
Automatic replenishment of stocked items when an inventory system flags low levels,
Integrated hybrid human-drone packaging lines, in which drones fill the repetitive but tedious tasks that have high rates of human rework,
Light item lifting to high shelving units typically accessed by human-operated lift tools,
Performing functional tasks during off-peak hours, when skeleton crews are running and employee costs would run into higher rates of pay,
Automated palletizing systems where product dimensions are standard and packing routines do not vary.
Delivery drones that serve external customers will continue to hog the headlines, but the real advantage for supply chain professionals is likely to come from applying the technology internally.
Keep this in mind as you consider adjustments to your warehouse operations in the weeks and months to come!