How Augmented Reality enables business efficiencies and optimisation in the logistics sector
As the logistics sector strains under the pressure of increased supply chain demand and labour shortages, one solution is the adoption of digital tools. In this Q&A, Percy Stocker, EVP, AR, Americas, TeamViewer, highlights how wearables and Augmented Reality are helping to increase efficiencies, improve the employee experience and enable business optimisation across the sector.
What are the key challenges that CIOs and their teams in the logistics sector are experiencing?
The challenges are two-fold. This market is experiencing a significant labour shortage. During the pandemic, people stayed at home more and had government incentives to do so to ensure they were safe, but that has created a challenge for all companies, including those in logistics, for accessing the right talent and to have people out in the field fulfilling orders.
In addition, while some industries have seen a drop in demand, this is not true of logistics. Supply chains have been strained to the most extreme in recent years. The combination of that increased demand – of fulfilling everything without being present in person – plus the labour shortage are probably the biggest challenges right now.
How has digitalisation impacted this sector?
Digitalisation really is one of the answers to these challenges. First, digitalisation helps to make things transparent. And once you tap into wearables, you are able to get even more insights. Right now, the enterprise software allows you to track ‘how fast you are.’. Now you suddenly have technology that travels with the worker and is able to provide sparring and transparency on ‘how the work is being performed’.
Digitalisation also helps people who have been unable to travel to certain locations in the logistics space to spin up additional sites and facilities using video collaboration, for example, and providing the expert knowledge on-site, making processes more effective and quicker to set up.
At the same time, using vision picking, data is conveyed much more intuitively. It’s not that digitalisation has never been there, but some of the products have historically been quite bulky and the displays not very intuitive to read.
By using AR technology and wearables, you can really speed up these processes and make it more intuitive for people to do that. This way we can replicate the same positive digital experiences we have in our private lives and bring it to the industrial space. That is very powerful.
Tell us more about why wearables and Augmented Reality are being more commonly used?
The pandemic has been an incubator for increased usage. It’s not like they have not been used before but it’s something that was previously more of a nice to have which has become an absolute necessity for companies. Big enterprises like DHL and Coca-Cola HBC have really standardised now on the technology on the logistics side.
What are the benefits for frontline workers when it comes to Augmented Reality?
The typical benefits we see are that it gives you a faster top line speed, because you can get more done with the same workforce. We see a speed increase of around 15% if you already have very optimised processes but this can be as high as 50%+if your processes are less optimised.
Another benefit is faster ramp up – you can now take a temp off the street and get them productively active in the logistics processes in 30 minutes to an hour. That’s essential in industries where you have a lot of temporary workers that really need to be onboarded continuously because your workforce may change regularly.
And then the third thing is you also can expect higher quality. One of the companies that was really very strong on the quality side was Coca-Cola HBC. They wanted to get 99.99% in accuracy and needed a solution to do so. Our vision picking solution was the answer for them.
In addition, it also allows companies to better compete for scarce labour. People want to work with technology they feel is state of the art. Smart glasses allow very easy access to information you need. Having everything directly in your field of view makes it very intuitive. It’s not abstract.
What are the most important criteria for assessing a platform?
The most important thing is flexibility. You want to select a platform that has a lot of breadth, rather than a point solution that is limited to only doing one thing. It’s important to pick a platform that allows you to start with picking, for example, because that’s the where the large majority of a workforce resides, but then expand it to other logistics use cases like inbound, outbound, lineside delivery and so on.
You can also expand it to manufacturing and, because the technology is so intuitive, you may have a worker that is in logistics one day but can then move over to a manufacturing station if you have labour shortage in certain weeks. It really makes access to additional jobs easier for people that are less trained or currently in other segments.
You also need flexibility in terms of the hardware, ensuring that whichever solution you choose, you’re not locked in with hardware that may at some point become unavailable.
Always make sure that your platform is hardware agnostic, allowing you to have a solution that is future proof for future hardware that is released but also allows you to choose the hardware that is best in your particular use case.
Also make sure to pick a platform that is proven for your use case and which has content that can immediately be used to be productive in your environment so you can see the benefits quickly.
Any other examples of how organisations have used this type of technology and the benefits they’ve experienced?
We work with companies that take over logistics operations for big enterprises. DHL, DB Schenker or Schnellecke Logistics are examples.
DHL is a great example of a company which has standardised its case and each picking within their Consumer and Life Sciences business units on vision picking technology.
This gives them an edge to win over competition, by being able to deliver more volume with the same amount of people and essentially providing a more affordable and higher quality offering to end customers.
There are also companies that use the technology internally such as Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company which has been rolling out the technology into distribution centres across Europe after starting in Greece.
We also work with big box retailers for example which are not only interested in doing the pure logistics piece but also use the technology to optimize their pallet building.
What will the workforce of the future look like and how should organisations prepare for this?
Having come from a consulting background, I’ve always felt that the people that bear the burden of the wonderful management strategies are not necessarily being reached because they don’t have access to PCs as they’re out in the field. Many times they have cumbersome RF guns or, if they work in assembly, they may just be using pieces of paper.
We make sure that we create technology that moves around with people and gives them access to information in an intuitive way.
I see the workforce of the future using this type of wearable technology. This workforce will be less stationary and more mobile and the , technology will move with them.
It will be intuitive and offer that consumer-like experience to the industrial world. This will make companies truly agile in allowing them to change direction, not only from a management side but for the whole company, by rolling out additional working procedures in an instant.
Companies need to reinvent themselves to stay competitive and we, as a team, can provide them with the tools and the means to do that to become truly agile and future-proof.
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