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Supply Chain Augmented Reality at Work

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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!