Augmented Reality Coming Soon to a Supply Chain Near You

Once thought of as science fiction or a technology or marketing gimmick, augmented reality (AR) might soon find some a real-life uses in the supply chain.

A recent report by logistics provider DHL, jointly developed with Z_punkt the Foresight Company, outlines how AR could affect the logistics industry, specifically in the areas of warehouse, transportation, and delivery management.

Although still in its infancy, AR's appeal is growing as more hardware, software, and consumer-ready devices start coming to market, according to the Augmented Reality in Logistics report. Additionally, there are more user-driven conversations about how AR and AR-generated information could be better applied to everyday life situations, which could influence how applications are developed in the near term. (See Max Maxfield's recent series.)

Forecasts also point to an AR sweet spot coming on the horizon. Based on numbers from Xcubelab, Research and Markets, and CNET, the market could grow to $5.2 billion by 2017, from a nascent base in 2012, the report notes. Several startups and big companies, including Google, Canon, and Qualcomm, have been significantly funding AR projects and are expected to bring new products to market in the next 12 months. The impact will reach a number of business sectors, including the consumer, medical, mobile, automotive, and manufacturing markets.

By extension, AR will eventually touch supply chain and logistics operations as well. DHL envisions a range of AR applications that could be built out of AR's primary tasks of scene capture, scene identification, scene processing, and scene visualization and help reshape warehouse, transportation, last-mile delivery, and customer service activities.

In the warehouse, staff could be equipped with head-mounted devices with the aim of improving efficiency and reducing picking errors. Warehouse operations account for an estimated 20% of all logistics costs, so improving the picking process with AR-based technology could help lower costs, improve warehouse plan, and be used for training new and temporary warehouse staff, according to DHL.

From a transportation perspective, there could be several application uses. One would be to put AR windshields on trucks to collect real-time traffic data, cargo temperature, and other important information could improve transportation planning and supply chain visibility. Additionally, AR could be used to better the overall freight loading process. Although many logistics companies make extensive use of digital data and planning software to optimize load planning and vehicle utilization, DHL suggests, “AR devices could help by replacing the need for printed cargo lists and load instructions. At a transfer station, for example, the loader could obtain real-time information on their AR device about which pallet to take next and where exactly to place this pallet in the vehicle,” all of which would speed up the existing process.

There's also talk that AR could create more value-added services, and for the manufacturing sector that could translate to improved assembly and repair services from their third-party logistics provider. In this case, 3PL assembly and repair teams could be outfitted with hands-free AR devices, perhaps something like glasses, that are loaded with software supporting specific tasks and providing visual step-by-step assembly and repair instructions. DHL anticipates that this could improve overall quality and significantly reduce training costs.

How will AR change your supply chain practices? What would you like AR applications and devices to do for your everyday supply chain life?

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2 comments on “Augmented Reality Coming Soon to a Supply Chain Near You

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    November 18, 2014

    There seems to be N number of possibilities where AR could be replacing the conventional methodology .


    I just thought about the inspection process at each point of transfer in the supply chain.

    Currently a lot of time and effort is required at every stage of the supply chain in inspection of the goods  – 1, at the factory gate 2. at the check posts on roads, railstations, airports, 3. At customs  4. at the customer and so on.


    With AR application such checks would be possible without the need to physically see the goods , without having the hardcopy packing list and so on.


    So the good once packed from the originating location need not be opened, unpacked, unloaded, reloaded .. till they reac their final destination.

  2. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    November 18, 2014

    @prabhakar, i like the way you think. that would save a lot of time, plus reduce the possiblity of product being damaged or lost.

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