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Supply Chain Technology Update: Augmented Reality & Workforce Efficiency

Supply-Chain-Technology-Update-Augmented-Reality-Workforce-Efficiency_Blog_Staff-Management-SMXIn the summer of 2016, a wide base of consumers got their first taste of an emerging technology that has percolated quietly in the background for a while now. The game was Pokémon Go, and the technology it popularized was augmented reality (AR).

In the broadest terms, AR describes the use of technology to layer one sense of reality on top of another. Pokémon Go’s game map syncs up with the real world, allowing each player to walk through the streets of their neighborhood to find Pokémon. When they point their device toward the spot where their map indicates that a Pokémon is waiting, the player sees an illustration of it overlaid on the real world. The game becomes a new reality layered on top of the existing world.

It’s understandable that gamers are excited about where AR can take them. But AR could also serve as a significant upgrade to your current supply chain technology. In particular, AR has great potential to help increase the efficiency of human workers on the assembly line and in the warehouse.

If you’ve already checked out our 5 Tips for Boosting Workforce Productivity, read on to find out how AR can make your workforce even more efficient.

AR at the Workstation

One solution that’s particularly suited to the demands of multi-step assembly processes is Light Guide Systems (LGS). This AR solution is best for workers who will be at one workstation for an extended period of time. A projector overlays instructions onto the workstation one step at a time while a motion sensor records the worker’s movements from one step to the next.

This allows LGS to eliminate the worker’s reliance on paper records, computer documents or their own memory so that they can just keep moving from one step to the next. The motion detector has the added benefit of recording productivity rates and monitoring assembly quality in real time.

AR in Your Palm

Of course not all warehousing and manufacturing workers will be able to get their work done from the same spot all the time. Many other AR tools are available to help workers on the move achieve greater efficiency. One way AR can be made portable is through the use of tablets and mobile phones.

Solutions like Producer Pro by NGRAIN and WorkLink by Scope AR are available to help companies easily produce and use step-by-step instructions. Among other tasks, these instructions can facilitate the maintenance and repair of complicated machinery. A worker out in the field can point their tablet or mobile phone at a piece of machinery, and then they’ll be able to view 3D animations overlaid on the machinery to help them figure out what to do to solve their problem, one step at a time.

AR in Front of Your Eyes

For highly mobile jobs, like picking and packing goods in warehouses and fulfillment centers, audio-enabled headsets have been available to some workers for years. So-called voice picking systems, like Lucas Move featuring Jennifer, increase productivity by guiding workers across large warehouse floors and breaking down pick procedures to ensure that workers pick items in the most efficient way, all without requiring the worker to look down at printed tasks or computerized instructions.

The next evolution of this technology could come in the form of SmartPick by Evolar. This solution uses AR glasses to not only guide workers through their tasks one step at a time, but to also guide their sight to the correct bin via illustrated visual cues. This could reduce the time workers spend scanning shelves of similar bins for the proper label.

Companies like Ubimax are also creating solutions that make use of AR glasses for picking, manufacturing and other industrial fields. Their solutions offer the added benefit of capturing data that otherwise would have to be spoken or scanned. Instead, a camera captures the necessary data when a worker simply looks at it.

Augmenting the IIoT

How will AR enhance the value of another major rising component of supply chain technology, namely the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)? The IIoT is the name given to the increased interconnectivity and data-sharing properties of physical objects, like the ability of a machine part to automatically transmit data to a factory’s central database.

It could have big implications for machine repairs. Tech brand Vuforia has engineered a solution that allows users to place labels on IIoT-connected objects. By using AR glasses, technicians who look at an object’s label are able to view the data recorded and transmitted by that part without running any diagnostics. Their solution then allows the viewer to access the kind of 3D step-by-step repair illustrations discussed above. AR will be an increasingly important component of IIoT strategies for midsize companies.

AR Serves Human Workers

With all of the talk about workplace automation, AR represents a different tack for the future path of supply chain technology. The fact is, there are many jobs for which humans are better suited than robots, including jobs in manufacturing, distribution and fulfillment that require manual dexterity. AR represents the ability of technology to make humans faster and more efficient at these jobs, whether help comes from a projection, through a mobile device or over a headset.

Whatever solutions you use to make your workers more efficient, a shift in demand can result in a need for additional workers. To offset the burden of increased output requirements, learn the 4 Keys to Ramping Up for Your Busy Season >

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