Leveraging augmented reality (AR) for warehouse management activities like order allocation, inventory control management, order picking, and material handling can simplify and improve complex warehouse operations, thereby bolstering supply chain processes.
Warehouse, a place that is used to store goods for commercial purposes, is one of the most essential and crucial parts of the supply chain. Materials that are to reach the customers should not only be well-handled but also be dispatched at the right time to achieve a satisfactory customer experience. Retailers, in this fast-paced digital world, are striving to come up with innovative ideas to fulfill customer expectations. One such trending strategy is merging e-commerce and in-store capabilities. Warehouse managers are, therefore, face the constant pressure of fulfilling high demand orders in increasingly shorter timeframes. Any mistake or delay in the process can lead to customer attrition, which can negatively impact the company’s profit margins. It is, therefore, absolutely important to have a streamlined, faultless, and well-organized task management process in a warehouse. And to have a clearer picture of inventories, enhance cycle counting, and optimize warehouse operations, companies must explore the world of modern-age technologies. Realizing this, several forward-thinking companies have embraced incredible warehouse technologies already. Right from Enterprise Resource Planning to automated guided vehicles to 3D printing, warehouses today are becoming more innovative and sophisticated. And just like these warehouse technologies, great promises are being made by Augmented reality (AR) as well. By leveraging AR for warehouse management operations, companies can ensure speedy, accurate, and optimized inventory, order picking, and material handling processes.
Being one of the most crucial contributors to overall business success, warehouse processes must be planned for maximum efficiency. Warehouse managers should create a plan that accounts for all the critical factors that may be involved in warehouse operations.
Warehouses today, are not merely a place to dump goods. The capabilities of the modern warehouse extend far beyond just a distribution center. To be more precise, the modern-age warehouses serve as a center to carry out more sophisticated services like product subassembly, which includes inspection, assembly, repairing, repacking, and dispatching. This means that apart from the regular operations, warehouses also offer additional value-added services that require continuous monitoring and accurate service delivery. Preparing a detailed warehouse strategy on how all the operations can be carried out reliably is of paramount importance. In the strategy, it is essential to cover things like optimal space utilization, warehouse redesigning for potential emergencies, and safe storage of high-selling or seasonal goods. AR can be of great help to warehouse managers and staff in the overall planning of the warehouse layout. With its potential to create digital, interactive 3D warehouse layout, AR offers the opportunity to experiment with changes to the existing warehouse design. Just by wearing an AR glass, the concerned authority can get comprehensive information on the warehouse layout with the proposed modifications incorporated. With several trials and experiments of new work models, warehouse managers and staff can inspect whether the plan effectively fits the warehouse layout. As a result, planning and redesigning of the warehouse layout (which was earlier the case) goes out of the picture, which results in tremendous cost and time savings.
In a warehouse, inventory management is among the most critical and challenging aspects to be taken care of. And one of the most brain-numbing activities in an inventory management process is inventory checking. In the past, employees had to physically rush around the warehouse to manually check whether the stock should be replenished, is good-to-go, or is in the right condition. The traditional methods of stocktaking were paper-based and most importantly, time-consuming. Moreover, to ensure desired work outcomes, employees had to be provided with cost-intensive training.
Furthermore, due to the involvement of humans in the process, chances of errors and inaccurate stocktaking increases. Hence, we cannot expect the work done to be always flawless and accurate. Realizing that this area needs to be streamlined, some major logistics companies have introduced barcode scanning systems for inventory control and management. The arrival of barcode scanners has brought in a new wave of innovation and revolution in the inventory checking and control process. One quick scan and the concerned official is instantly provided with detailed information on the product. However, despite the benefits, barcode scanners were too cost-prohibitive when the demand for hardware intensified.
On the other hand, with AR, warehouse managers and staff will manage stocks all hands-free. With the help of an AR smart glass, workers can get detailed information on how a particular task needs to be performed. For example, a worker can see the necessary information such as the order number, trolley number, bin information (where the products need to be dumped), and passage number displayed on the screen. This information will help workers in determining which products should be loaded into which bin. Thus, workers can carry out the loading and unloading process without any delay.
Another important and cost-intensive task (which accounts for up to 55 percent of the total operation cost) in a warehouse is order picking. Extracting the right product as requested by customers at the right time and in the right quantities is what order picking is all about. In today’s technology-powered era, customers expect all products and services to be delivered faster. Hence, logistics companies are always under pressure to streamline the order picking process minimal costs, in order to protect their revenue generation. The traditional approach of order picking was a time-consuming and painful process altogether, where the staff navigated around the warehouse to locate items as per customer’s requirements. This manual method was prone to errors and cost-intensive. Then emerged the trend of using barcode scanners. Workers, using this approach, had to scan barcodes one at a time to identify the item, which was still not only ineffective but also labor-intensive.
On the other hand, AR can simplify the entire order picking process. For example, when an operator is informed about a scheduled pick-up, she moves around the facility wearing an AR-based smart glass. As and when she moves her head, the smart glass scans the barcode of items she sees in the cart. Through visual and audio assistance, the operator is guided appropriately to reach the right location. As soon as the pick is completed, information is updated on the system for future reference. Deutsche Post DHL, the world’s largest logistics company, has already successfully leveraged AR for order picking in a warehouse in the Netherlands.
The power of new-age technologies like AI, big data, and IoT in making warehouses smarterand innovative has been in the news over the last few years. And now, the potential of AR for warehouse management is just beginning to be explored, indicating incredible potential. Every vital warehouse-related operation, such as receiving the items, classifying, sorting, storing, managing inventories, stocktaking, inventory replenishment, assembling, packing, and dispatching, that was earlier carried out by a time-consuming, manual process is automated, streamlined, and painless today due to the introduction of advanced technologies.