Within the technology section of Roadmap 2.0, the potential benefits of utilizing augmented reality smart glasses within supply chains are briefly explored on page 26. Notably, three potential applications are mentioned: picking for order fulfillment, equipment maintenance and repair, and training support for new employees as they grow accustomed to their assigned tasks.
Before exploring why, first an explanation of what augmented reality smart glasses do. Augmented reality (AR) is different from virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR), notes Dr. Randy Bradley, assistant professor of information systems and supply chain management at the University of Tennessee’s Haslam College of Business.
“Augmented and mixed reality maintain an existing physical reality, but add a digital element to create a value-added mix of real and virtual,” he explains, “as opposed to virtual reality, which completely immerses the user in a computer-generated and simulated environment.”
With AR smart glasses, an overlay of digital information—such as instructions, graphics or simulated screens—is displayed within the wearer’s natural view without obstructing the reflection of light off physical objects. “And mixed reality,” continues Bradley, “brings virtual and real worlds together to create new environments with digital and physical objects and sounds, as well as their data, coexisting and interacting.”
That combination of a view into the real world, supplemented by field-of-vision instructions that support the task at hand, is what gives augmented reality smart glasses so much potential within supply chains, says Jay Kim, chief strategy officer at Upskill, a company that creates enterprise software for AR devices.
“Smart glasses really have the potential to transform how people work, particularly within processes that require a lot of labor-intensive manual work to accommodate high variability,” he notes, adding that processes like picking, packing, sorting and kitting are ideal examples.
Pictures of required products, diagrams of product locations in storage rack, turn-by-turn directions while navigating a warehouse, or illustrations of where to place specific items within a parts kit all contribute to faster, more accurate workers. Not only does this support increase efficiency for experienced associates, it also helps to onboard new employees, as well as eliminates language barriers in a multi-cultural workforce.
In maintenance and repair applications, a technician wearing augmented reality smart glasses no longer has to refer to a printed manual of instructions, keeping their hands free to perform the tasks. Time is saved because the smart glasses can display step-by-step images or diagrams of how to repair the machinery. Further, equipping the smart glasses with a camera would allow them to broadcast images of the equipment being worked on to a remote technical assistance location off-site for additional diagnosis and repair recommendations.
Bradley also says some companies are evaluating the use of augmented reality smart glasses for monitoring and boosting worker productivity through gamification.
“Operations often introduce performance incentives on a team- or shift-wide basis; smart glasses could potentially allow them to track down to the individual level and make it so each person is aware of what the others are doing to encourage competition in terms of speed, accuracy and so on,” he explains.
To learn more, check out MHI Solutions third quarter 2017 article “Augmented Reality Smart Glasses,” here.
Both Bradley and Kim will be participating in a MODEX 2018 keynote panel discussion of the findings contained within MHI’s fifth Annual Industry Report on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. Starting at 8:45 a.m., the presentation features insights into the report and several key next-generation supply chain technologies. Joining them in the discussion are eight other participants from academia, the supply chain industry, and technology experts.
Additionally, several MODEX exhibitors will be highlighting augmented reality wearable systems—along with a host of other next-generation technologies—within MHI’s newly created Smart City Logistics & Connected Supply Chain solutions center, located in Hall C. For more information or to register, visit modexshow.com.