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Boost your supply chain with wearables and augmented reality

Posted by CeMAT Team on 11-Mar-2016 13:09:25


It’s not new that the logistics industry is transforming. Developments in technology that are being fuelled by the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data, mean that hardware and software applications speak to each other better than ever before.

Digital innovations have given businesses the ability to look more deeply into their customers preferences, improving both the customer experience and customer satisfaction through personalisation and faster delivery times.

So what is new? These developments in technology are constantly opening up new possibilities on creating a smarter supply chain, and this post will look at the application of warehouse wearables and augmented reality to help you optimise the efficiency of your supply chain. 


What is wearable technology?

Wearable technologies are generally devices that incorporate clothing or accessories with advanced electronic technologies. The two main examples that you’ve probably heard of are the Apple Watch and the Google Glass.

Wearable devices are a good example of the Internet of Things, because they can accumulate data from a network of physical ‘things’ enabling objects to be interconnected with each other without requiring human intervention.

Wearables interweave technology into our every day lives, making it easier for people to track things such as their health and fitness while also making it easier to connect aspects of their life with portable devices.


Why are wearables so great for warehouse efficiency?

There are a few examples of wearable technologies that can be used in the warehouse, and they are the Google Glass and augmented reality, and below we've outlined how each can save your business time. 


Google Glass

As we all know by now, customer expectations for fast delivery times is increasing. This means businesses need to find more efficient ways of delivering services.

Smart glasses, or most commonly known as the Google Glass, improve efficiencies by removing the need for hand held scanners to find boxes in the warehouse. This frees employee’s hands, making work easier, and also reduces costs for labour in the warehouse.

The Google Glass can be outfitted with warehouse management software, and can tell employees about the fastest route to find products or pallets. This reduces warehouse complexity for new employees and really speeds up the fulfilment process.


Augmented reality (AR)

You may have seen the rise of AR through publications such as the NY Times. They began filming using virtual reality to bolster their stories, and they are pegged to start using Google Cardboard this year to start monetising the venture. If you haven’t heard of Google Cardboard before, it is a cardboard device you can place around your smart phone to create an Oculus Rift type headset.

Providing users with an enhanced view of the world around them gives them greater insights the most optimal way to work. In the instance of the warehouse, it can improve efficiencies when it comes to picking and packing by up to 25%.

AR differs to the Google Glass as it offers visibility for items that are picked too often, when orders go unfulfilled or when orders are damaged during fulfilment.

In general, wearable tech can assist with the following:

  • Adds certainty and accuracy to order fulfilment
  • Efficiency is optimised through streamlining warehouse operations
  • Reducing labour costs
  • Improving order fulfillment by creating the fastest route when fetching inventory
DHL experiments with smart eyewear for e-Commerce warehousing

After struggling with pick accuracy, DHL Exel began testing Google Glass in their US warehouses last year. DHL wanted see if wearable technologies could be a viable replacement for handheld scanners and paper orders.

Since implementing the Smart-Glass on the warehouse floor, DHL’s packing and shipping times have reduced 25%; a fantastic result!

You can see more about DHL’s application of Google Glass and augmented reality in the below video.


Final thoughts

The benefits provided by the Google Glass and augmented reality is extremely well suited to complex environments such as large warehouses.

Wearable devices can provide businesses with access to real-time information, accurate identification tools and interactive software applications that make inventory management more efficient.

However, the downside is that wearables in the workplace can be expensive, especially when utilised in large spaces that don’t necessarily have the turn around of inventory to warrant the investment.

There would also be training and guidelines involved around how to use it and how to ensure data remains secure if the software is integrated with supply chain management systems.

At the end of the day, each business would need to weigh up the pros against the cons to see whether or not wearables are the right way to improve your warehouse operations.

Has your business implemented wearable technology in your warehouse? Let us know via email or reply in the comments below.

Topics: Logistics, Warehouse