One of the most popular trends that captivate the attention of futurists in the field of supply chain management is the use of augmented reality. This sounds like science fiction, but it really does make a lot of sense and will bring infinite possibilities in the coming decades.
Well, but what is exactly Augmented Reality? It consists of the improved perception of a real-world physical environment thanks to the operation of Internet-connected devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) with the aim of creating a real-time parallel and virtual reality. Pokémon Go is an example. This game augments virtual information to existing physical information: It adds virtual synthetic elements to the actual ones. While virtual reality makes users perceive and interact in a parallel reality that has nothing to do with the real world, in augmented reality, technology and information about the real world around the user is used to create an interactive and digital one. Artificial information about the environment and objects can be stored and retrieved as a layer of information at the top of the real worldview.
Okay, but what does this have to do with my company’s supply chain? Calm down, good man. In fact, because this technology is useful to assimilate the information almost in an omniscient way, the implementation of AR in your company could accelerate the development of all logistic processes, as well as reduce operating costs and industrial safety risks. If your workers wear AR glasses (such as Google’s,) they can locate any piece of merchandise in the warehouse and even know to which batch a box belongs, on what date it should be delivered and if there is any damage report related to that particular box. It is possible to take pictures at different moments of the supply chain, and this allows, for example, to evaluate what happened at some point in order to make a report.
Read also: Where are all of these Supply Chain Management trends going?, by David Kiger
Augmented reality can influence different sectors of an organization, from the inventory department, through the packaging of products, to the same distribution of the merchandise in trucks, boats or airplanes. When it comes to transport, a driver can be guided by a GPS system in his glasses (or, why not, in the panoramic glass of the truck) and, at the same time, measuring the temperature of the goods he transports (food or medicines, for instance,) rather than checking it manually in the container.
Picking, organizing and updating the inventory can also be greatly improved thanks to augmented reality. Measuring quantities, knowing what part of the merchandise is not in good conditions or determining the weight or expiry date of food, can be known thanks to a quick look through a smartphone camera or a pair of glasses. That easy.
As you can see, augmented reality does what its name implies: It extends the perception of reality. If you grew up in the nineties, you’ve probably seen Terminator. If you saw it, you surely remember the vision of that fearsome robot played by Schwarzenegger: his internal software added information to the physical reality perceived by the other characters and could measure distances, identify faces and materials, among thousands of fascinating things. Thanks to a special application, which could be designed for your own company, the learning time of new operators would be greatly reduced, since, through virtual programs, they can be guided in each process of their work through the incorporated interface. Errors would be minimal. In fact, the margin of error could be reduced by almost half in all processes.
This technology can also be combined with others, such as Big Data. The devices used to add information to the physical reality could also allow the collection, sending and constant storage of data, which can become information for further analysis and the subsequent transformation of it into useful knowledge. This process would make the communications of all logistic processes increase for the benefit of the entire supply chain, and levels of effectiveness would definitely improve in ways never seen before.
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At ports, the development of mechanical engineering tools has progressed from early applications of limited element methods, with no graphical user interface, to wireless programs for the creation of dynamic multi-body simulations. In this way, you can now control models of cranes and other machines through models of on-board control systems which, in turn, receive the orders of models of high-level automation solutions. Moreover, the control and automation systems can be real, while mechanical cranes or power systems are simulated. The combination depends on what is being developed and at what stage. This has reduced costs and time in several companies nowadays.
The “supply chain management of the future,” apparently, is not so distant. It looks like magic when we do not understand it or when we don’t see it coming.
* Featured Image courtesy of Ian Kennedy at Flickr.com