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Warehousing, supply chain experience held in virtual reality

By Jensen, Randy on September 18, 2020.

Julieta Fuentes-Aceytuno explores the virtual conference environment of the Automation in Supply Chain – A Gamified Experience event Thursday at Tecconnect. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

LETHBRIDGE HERALD

Economic Development Lethbridge partnered with Supply Chain Canada – Alberta Institute and Dematic, a global leader of automated solutions for manufacturing, warehousing and distribution environments, to host a one-of-a-kind event on Thursday.

Automation in Supply Chain – A Gamified Experience allowed participants to gain valuable information in an innovative virtual-reality setting with help from Lethbridge College. The event, which included local, provincial, and national companies, offered insight into the current state of the warehousing industry and provided innovative ways to pivot or optimize operations for the future.

2D and 3D environments were built for audience members to tour automated solutions that include Micro-Fulfilment, Automated Mixed Case Palletizing and Automated Guided Vehicles. They also had the opportunity to virtually network with other businesses in the supply-chain sector and learn more about the Lethbridge region and their role in supply chain by visiting the virtual Lethbridge: Brighter Together booth as part of the event.

“Dematic is focused on helping our customers quickly respond to critical business challenges,” said Natalie Nimchand, Business Development and Marketing Manager at Dematic, in a news release. “The supply-chain industry has experienced a major shift, with the pandemic highlighting gaps that many companies were not prepared for. We have all learned so much, and it is our duty to share the lessons learned.

“The opportunity to educate the supply-chain community in Alberta is extremely timely considering the effort being made to grow the sector across the province. This is a great start to a strong partnership in building economic development in Lethbridge and all of Alberta.”

The event took place in virtual reality with participants using the AltspaceVR platform and using Oculus VR equipment.

The event was nearly cancelled due to restrictions caused by COVID-19. But then Lethbridge College Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) students and faculty collaborated with EDL on a solution that moved the conference to a virtual-reality environment. Participants were able to view an experts’ panel, mingle and network with other participants, and go into interactive VR rooms where they could engage with new supply chain technologies through gamified experiences.

“I like to look at it as a double-dip of innovation,” says Tyler Heaton, Lethbridge College VXR instructor, in a release from Lethbridge College. “Those taking part in this conference are on the cutting edge of innovations that will improve supply chain technology for a wide variety of industries. Meanwhile, we’ve created a custom virtual environment that not only brings people together from across Canada, or wherever they’re located, but allows them a ‘hands-on’ interactive experience that replaces planned field trips and facility tours.”

Two LC VR/AR students began designing the space as part of their program curriculum in the inaugural year of the college’s VXR program in 2019-20. One of the students, Connor Macleod, has remained involved in the project to see it through to fruition and worked with Heaton to make it fully functional for the Automation in Supply Chain conference.

“It’s truly an exciting way to attend an event like this,” said Tom McCaffery, President and CEO, Supply Chain Canada – Alberta Institute. “Having this event, in virtual reality to showcase warehouse automation is sharing supply-chain technology within communication technology. In a recent webinar poll 33 per cent of the participants reported that they are not adopting technology due to cost, and 31 per cent are not adopting technology because of lack of knowledge. Our aim is to support industry to find ways to overcome these barriers. I hope this event will play an important role.”

Erin Crane, Director, Investment Attraction, Economic Development Lethbridge, said the partnership and innovation for this event represent what the Lethbridge: Brighter Together community brand was meant to represent.

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