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  • Is Augmented Reality the Future of Supply Chain Management?

    Written by Robert Brice
    Fri, Oct 07, 2016

    Discover the future of augmented reality in the supply chain.
    Discover the future of augmented reality in the supply chain.

    The ever-developing world of innovative technology is making its way into just about every industry, and supply chain management is no exception. From optimized automated data collection solutions to robotic manufacturing equipment, this field is increasingly making use of the advanced devices and services available to streamline processes and contain cost.

    Now, supply chain management has a new trend to consider: augmented reality.

    Defining Augmented Reality

    Augmented reality is a recent technological innovation, but it has been in development stages for the past 50 years, according to CNET. As the name implies, augmented reality serves to make what's real even better.

    As CNET explained, this class of technology enhances reality by creating a digital layer over what we see. Consider the application "Pokemon Go." This pop culture hit displays a Pokemon character over a real image - whatever it is the user is looking at through his or her camera. For instance, a player can see Bulbasaur sitting on his or her front porch. The application also shows the player as a digitally designed character on an actual map, tracking the individual's movements in real-time.

    Augmented reality does more than just entertain, though, and it can be adapted for more practical uses. For instance, CNET noted that augmented reality will likely be integrated into wearable technology. With this adaptation, users wouldn't have to hold a phone in front of their face to experience augmented reality. Rather, a sleek pair of glasses or high-tech headgear would allow them to benefit from a hands-free digitally enhanced world, meaning they could perform other tasks.

    The Role of Augmented Reality in Supply Chain Management

    As any supply chain management leader knows, technological advancements bring advantages to every facet of the supply chain. SupplyChainBrain highlighted several equally beneficial uses for augmented reality. In a warehouse, for example, this type of technology would allow workers to hold a camera while walking around the vicinity, and as pallets pass into the camera's view, the corresponding information would populate on the screen.

    Consider the benefits augmented reality can bring to picking processes. According to SupplyChainBrain, holding the camera over a shipping container would reveal a Tetris-like overlay demonstrating the most effective arrangement for packages. Getting this composition of boxes correct on the first try can increase efficiency and productivity. European supply chains have benefited from using augmented reality in this way when pairing these strategies with voice-picking technology.

    A DHL Trend Research report showcased more uses for augmented reality in logistics, especially in the warehouse. As more warehouses transition from traditional storage spaces to productivity hubs offering services like repacking and repairs, layout planning will become more crucial. Augmented reality provides a realistic picture of any reorganization in the current setting. This allows supply chain management to evaluate feasibility of the rearrangement and identify the most effective workflows before the physical transition even begins.

    Augmented reality can also benefit pick-up efficiency. For instance, with augmented reality-integrated headgear, the collector could simply look at a load to determine if the order is complete instead of sifting through paperwork. After loads are collected, logistics experts could use augmented reality to track traffic and travel on the fastest routes, improving delivery times and customer satisfaction.

    First Steps

    Before integrating augmented reality into supply chain operations, leaders need to ensure they have a solid foundation of quality data. This adds a new purpose to automated data collection. Using data collection devices or upgrading your existing hardware will create more opportunities for augmented reality in the future.

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