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Augmented reality applications in Logistics - who is using it?

By Jan De Kimpe

Warehousing today is expected to receive products on storage locations some hours after physical unloading of trucks. On the outbound side we expect a very fast reaction, without any errors and meeting transportation cut-offs at all times. Same time we have different order profiles, still the old type of replenishment orders to stockholding clients, but also more and more small orders, e-commerce type of profile. And we want the warehouse to be cost efficient and thus highly productive (+60% of warehousing cost is traditionnaly manpower based) and very adaptable, agile even.

A lot of companies continue to work in the old way and try to squeeze these new trends into old layouts, old ways of functioning using older but proven technology such as barcode terminals and even voice. Meeting all cost, efficiency and service goals is often a very hard battle if the whole concept is not being revised. Today physical automation in what we call "lights off warehouses" is getting more and more accessible, but requires either a lot of spare capacity for peaks, or ways to split automated work from manual work. And automation also requires stable business and product characteristics.

We need to think of more highly adaptable warehousing concepts, easy and fast to train processes and high resource flexibility. For manually run operations the flexibility needs to be in the user interface, with quickly adaptable screens and information to show to operators and with "self-checking" technology. I personally strongly believe in camera recognition combined with hands-free technology as available in SmartGlasses. Instructions can be given by voice and repeated on the screen of the glasses. The camera can recognize the location and items can be scanned with ring-scanners if required. Or a projector can instruct where to put items or cartons. If combined with positioning technology also the correct location of the operator and/or his material handling equipment can be checked, as well on X/Y level as in height. Working fast and correct with almost no data entry during the process is possible and allow to run efficient and adaptable operations.

I have had the opportunity to rethink at different companies the put-away, picking, sorting and loading processes using this type of technology. We learned that productivity is very high, number of errors is reduced to almost zero and temporary labor is very quickly into the process and up to speed. Anybody wishing to share information or experience on this? Or want to discover opportunities for this type of technology? Let's use this medium to exchange and improve Warehousing Logistics together.

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