Supply Chain Council of European Union |

Supply Chain AR Technology Is Here, And It’s Exciting

Augmented reality (AR) superimposes digital elements on real-world environments using cellphones, tablets, heads-up windshield displays or digital glasses. Since the 1980s, movie characters have used AR to identify aliens, change the future, fight crime and more. In 2016, popular culture was dominated by Pokémon Go, the first AR game to hit the market, sending crowds of people to roam the streets on the hunt for cartoon creatures.

Since then, AR has shown up everywhere in our lives. You can redesign your home using the Amazon Shopping app powered by AR, try on new makeup courtesy of Sephora or gamify your kid’s toothbrushing habits.

However, while most people know about the entertainment, gaming and shopping aspects of AR, few are aware that it’s already being used in work environments for more practical purposes.

Some of the most exciting new uses (for business owners) are in the supply chain. Nearly everything we use, eat or wear comes through the supply chain, and many of the big companies in the business of manufacturing and moving merchandise are already at the forefront of AR technology.

Manufacturing: Investing In Innovation

It may have been around since the 1930s, but Volkswagen is still a thoroughly modern company. Using high-resolution data glasses, VW engineers all over the world work together in a virtual reality (VR) environment to design new concepts, identify trends and develop ideas.

At Volkswagen’s high-tech Zwickau plant in Germany, AR technology supplied by Insider Navigation helps workers navigate the gigantic plant, providing AR maps and information. And not too far in the future, VW will bring AR into your car with three-dimensional head-up displays that merge the information you need with your environment.

Picking And Packing: Reimagining Warehouse Logistics

In 2017, DHL rolled out “Vision Picking” smart glasses in its global warehouses. The result was satisfying: Productivity improved by an average of 15%.

In July, DHL introduced its first digital twin warehouse. Using the internet of things (IoT) technology and data analytics, DHL is better able to track and manage physical assets, coordinate operations and resolve issues as they arise.

Training: AR Changes The Game

Deloitte reports that manufacturing has a problem. As AI, robotics and automation rapidly infiltrate every aspect of the manufacturing process, millions of jobs have opened up, only to go unfilled. The gap between new job openings and skilled workers to fill them is widening. How will the industry address this gap and help workers build the necessary skills? Augmented reality solutions are designed to improve workforce productivity, quality, safety and compliance. Companies such as PTC, Progress Labs and Upskill tailor solutions that provide just-in-time information — exactly the information workers need, at the exact moment they need it. This type of reinforced training boosts efficiency and accuracy, reduces training time and enhances productivity.

With AR and VR, specialists can oversee delicate technical operations from anywhere. This means companies don’t have to hire a highly paid specialist for each job site, bring in an outside contractor or deal with the delay and expense of flying specialists all over the world.

Sourcing: AR In Future Procurement

I imagine a not-too-distant future where procurement professionals can verify compliance issues by visiting manufacturers and suppliers in realtime, inspecting facilities for human rights violations, safety hazards and expected manufacturing standards. You’ll be able to see and use products in 3-D before ordering, talk face to face with vendors around the world and use AR data to predict potential supply chain disruptions before they happen. Designers will be able to work directly with producers in other countries to refine and enhance ideas, ensure quality and stay away from the wrath of social media backlash.

Humans In The Mix

The most interesting aspect of this discussion is the number of jobs created by AR and VR technology. Earlier conversations centered on how automation and robotics would eliminate jobs, but as more AR technology enters the workplace, reality shows humans not only have a place, but their jobs will be safer, more productive and more interesting as a result. I believe humans will still be needed to make decisions given new input because one thing machines simply cannot have is imagination, and they can only be programmed with narrow concepts of ethics and limited holistic decision-making abilities.

The right decision is not always the most efficient or most cost-effective. As intelligent as it is, AI is not capable of making decisions that value human lives, for example, over the cost of safety measures.

Preparing For The New AR Supply Chain

You may not be ready for AR, but it’s here and gaining momentum. Preparing first means changing minds. Making the case for AR isn’t as difficult as it seems if you approach buy-in from the cost perspective. Implementing an AR system can be pricey, but the return on investment touches every aspect of the process by:

• Increasing efficiency.

• Reducing errors.

• Enhancing safety.

• Allowing collaboration.

• Reducing transportation costs.

• Choosing/monitoring the right vendors.

• Maintaining compliance.

The technology already exists to map facilities and products and to help pickers pull and organize merchandise for shipping. Enhanced safety, accuracy and efficiency are already available, and as a bonus, your company will most likely save money.

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