According to Digi-Capital’s latest forecast, augmented reality (AR) will constitute an $83 billion market by 2021. While a good chunk of that may go to popular games in the mode of Pokémon GO, AR also can also serve wholly practical purposes and improve logistics.
Among the items covered in the Tech Trends 2017: The Kinetic Enterprise from Deloitte University Press was a look the benefits of mixed reality (MR) offer industry. It enables access to “actionable information to any location where work is done—on site, on the shop floor, or in the field,” and that can take logistical operations to a whole new level of efficiency.
DHL’s report Augmented Reality in Logistics details four areas in which the technology can effectively be applied:
- Warehousing operations
- Transportation optimization
- Last-mile delivery
- Enhanced value-added services
For warehousing, “vision picking software offers real-time object recognition, barcode reading, indoor navigation, and seamless integration of information with the Warehouse Management System (WMS),” according the report. It not only enables workers to see what’s on their picking list but also the most efficient route to take to get to their end point.
AR assists in optimizing transportation by employing “markers or advanced object recognition technology.” That makes it possible to optimize loading and unloading. The report cites estimate as high as 60 percent of driver time wasted on identifying where the box they need to deliver is within the truck.
In contrast to the inefficiency of hunting around the truck, a look through the AR device would instantly let the person loading or unloading know what’s in each package, its weight, whether it requires special handling, and its destination. “The device could then calculate the space requirements for each parcel in real time, scan for a suitable empty space in the vehicle, and then indicate where the parcel should be placed, taking into account the planned route. “
The same technology can also help the driver find the destination, down to the specific entrance to be used for improved last mile delivery. On top of making delivery more efficient, AR carries potential for additional value-added services. As it can communicate and instruct workers remotely, it makes it possible for them to do more for the customers like setting up the equipment or even fixing parts.
“It’s like a GPS for your job,” Brian Ballard, CEO and found of Upskill (formerly APX labs) said of AR in the Tech Trends 2017 report. He argues that just as we wouldn’t go back to paper maps after realizing the benefits of GPS, industries that apply AR in the workplace would realize that it offers a better way.
Ballard explains how it can be applied to solving logistical problems and measurably improve performance. Factory or warehouse workers who wear smart glasses can see the information they need to know about locations and products while they are looking at when they wear smart glasses.
Getting that relevant information delivered right to their field of vision means they don’t need to then take the time to check for that information on paper or even on a separate digital screen. As a result, they move more swiftly through their tasks.
That applies to finding and placing items in a warehouse and to the “kitting processes in manufacturing— picking parts, adding to carts, and bringing to the proper workstations for just-in-time manufacturing orders,” Ballard said. When workers can get through those processes faster, deliveries are speeded up, and some of Upskill’s clients have seen delivery times improve as much as 50%.
To really put the application of AR to the test, Ballard said, they got a comparison on film. One set of workers were given instructions on paper or on tablets. The other got instructions through smart glasses. There was a significant difference in speed between the two.
Ballard recounts, “With digital instructions, aerospace workers worked 32 percent faster using wearables; likewise, the energy workers worked 35 percent faster with wearables.” He points out that this wasn’t because they were used to doing it that way; they achieved that faster speed “their first time using a new technology.” That’s an instant boost to productivity.
Removing the need to shift attention to a paper or a device is not only an asset for saving on worker time, it can also contribute to safer conditions, particularly because it doesn’t take up the workers hands or make them look away from what they’re doing. Plus there is a less tangible but still very important benefit. The insight given workers using AR “enables workers to augment their own expertise, which can lead to better decision making,” Ballard said.