Augmented reality is poised to radically improve manufacturing, logistics, and skilled trades. AR can superimpose holographic images and instructions onto the real world, which is immensely valuable for educating workers on how to use large machinery or specialized devices.
The technology also has the potential to increase productivity in warehousing and transport by optimizing processes across the entire supply chain. I spoke to AR thought leaders and investors who gave me three key insights from into how the technology will disrupt manufacturing in terms of training, logistics, and transportation.
On-the-spot training for tomorrow's workforce
AR applications will be highly valuable for training skilled talent in manufacturing hubs. The technology can spur significant improvements in productivity by shortening the learning curve for on-site staff. Industrial AR company Atheer, for example, has created an enterprise AR application that provides remote subject matter calling, access to contextual documentation and resources, step-by-step task guidance, and barcode scanning -- all of which can be directly transmitted to an on-site employee's smart glasses.
This technology could easily be expanded into other skilled trades, such as various engineering disciplines, welding, plumbing, and electricity systems. With the rise of automation potentially eliminating manual roles, AR training tools will be useful in future-proofing the global workforce.
Rob Crasco, Virtual and Augmented Reality Influencer, expands on how AR training will prepare workers for the future: "Augmented reality is a natural fit for on-the-spot training as it takes the education out of the classroom and into the field where it can be applied to actual work situations. Workers can see the correct methods to perform a task as they do it themselves, and these instructions can be recalled as required, all without a human trainer in the loop."
Crasco continues: "Google Glass Enterprise Edition has quietly become successful as a training tool on factory floors and other industrial worksites. Augmented reality is the future of training due its great potential for streamlining the training process and cost reduction in getting workers up to speed."
Streamlining logistics operations
Warehouse employees typically perform multiple actions when managing an order. They must locate the correct product, scan it, and deliver it to the loading dock. However, emerging computer vision and machine learning solutions can identify where a product is located and whether it is the correct product at a much faster pace than could otherwise be achieved by a human.
If used correctly, such technology has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of warehousing operations. German logistics company DHL is testing mobile AR systems that provide real-time object recognition, barcoding reading, and indoor navigation. Wearing one of these devices, warehouse workers can see digital picking lists in their field of vision and determine the best route, thus reducing their travel time.
Vinay Narayan, Executive Director at HTC Vive, expands on how AR will influence global logistics: "Immersive technologies like VR and AR help to reduce cognitive load, thus resulting in better focused and trained teams. Immersive tech is much more than just hardware: it's a platform that allows a convergence of existing tools and technologies. The intuitive nature of good AR and VR allows for straightforward integration in existing workflows with less down time spent in training."
Narayan continues: "by providing real time instructions, gathering feedback, combined with AI integrations to change workflow in real time, companies can reduce down time in training, errors, and dependency on specialized skillsets. While the consumer growth of AR headsets is still in the prototype stage, the impact to enterprises -- and specifically to global logistics -- is a no brainer with a real ROI."
Optimization of transport
AR applications could streamline the time it takes to identify packages and determine their route and destination. For example, an AR mobile app or wearable device can project information about the type of goods being transported, each package's weight, and whether it is fragile.
The device could then calculate the space required for the package and search for a suitable spot in the driver's vehicle, taking into account the planned route. Moreover, once the driver is en route, AR applications could display digital directions into the immediate environment. If directions aren't readily available, a driver could add markers to an open database, thus creating a sort of crowdsourced guide for other drivers.
Tom Cole, Managing Partner at Hone Capital, expands on how AR can optimize global transport: "AR will dramatically improve logistics, and the potential applications are numerous, spanning warehouse operations, transportation optimization, and last-mile delivery. For example, in the transportation segment, there are natural use cases not only in freight loading optimization and completeness checks, but also in dynamic traffic support where traditional navigation systems in delivery vehicles can be replaced by AR glasses or windshield projection."
Cole continues: "2016 was a year of testing for many logistics providers, but the confluence of positive observed results along with cost reduction driven by ongoing consumer AR adoption will bring implementation of AR into the logistics realm in the coming years. Logistics demands intense operational excellence while managing razor thin margins, and participants are looking for any edge they can get."
An immersive future for manufacturing and logistics
Augmented reality has a bright future in the manufacturing and logistics industries. From optimizing operations in warehouses, to employee training, to evolving modern transport, the technology is playing a positive role in the entire global supply chain. Although the technology's deployed use cases are currently limited, AR will keep gaining strong adoption as companies continue to see an immediate return on investment in their workforce.
Michael Park is the CEO and founder of PostAR, a platform that lets you build, explore, and share augmented realities.