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Augmented……what? Reality? Augmented Reality Supply Chain? As Will Ferrell says, “You’re crazy man. I love you, but…you’re crazy.” Not so fast. The Augmented Reality Supply Chain is here…..and well…’s going to be effective.

The Rise of the Augmented Reality Supply Chain

What separates science fiction from reality? Is it the application and use of new technologies that have yet to be discovered, or does science fiction simply blur the lines between idealism and reality?  Often, the precursors to science fiction begin within the needs of society and commerce. Along with the rise of the digital supply chain, we now see the rise of the augmented reality supply chain.

The world is changing, and the supply chain will be dramatically impacted by the different technologies in the world. The Internet of things has radicalized how machines interact with people and one another. Sensor-driven technologies and advanced analytics hold promise in restoring the balance between workload and production. The supply chain stands on the cusp of innovation and augmented reality (AR) is becoming more applicable to today’s supply chain needs. Yet, many fail to understand what AR is. Unlike the virtual reality images of science fiction, augmented reality is a very real factor in today’s world, and it will continue to grow in 2016 and beyond. In fact, some huge “Futurists” like Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, as well as Brett King are currently writing books on the matter (Beyond Mobile: Life after Smartphones and Augmented – Life in the Smart Line respectively). So, now, let’s take a look at some of the basic facts of AR and how it applies to the modern supply chain.

What Is Augmented Reality?

As defined in an industry report on AR by DHL, Augmented Reality refers to the layering of computer simulation models over the physical layout of current surroundings. In a sense, this is the hallmark of virtual reality, but AR refers to using this information to improve the efficiency of today’s processes as they relate to the supply chain.  

Most common forms of Augmented Reality involve some sort of glass, visual display for a wearer to use in the process of increasing productivity and performance. For example, smart glasses in the warehouse are considered a form of Augmented Reality Supply Chain, explains SupplyChainDigest. The wearer is able to overlay a computer simulated image into the physical space. Another example of AR is the yellow strip for the line of scrimmage during a televised football game, asserts Roland Martin. The line is not really there, but it is being used to improve the overall experience for viewers.  

By 2017, augmented reality is estimated to have a value of just over $6 billion. Evidently, this trend is growing at one of the fastest paces in the market, 100 percent annually. And, one of the largest sectors we will see grow is in the “Industrial” sector, meaning application for both an augmented reality supply chain to include manufacturing, distribution, and logistics:

augmented reality supply chain

How will the AR Movement Translate into the Augmented Reality Supply Chain?

Augmented Reality is currently being used to provide a sense of scene recognition during order picking processes. Most traditional order picking processes involve paper-pen picking or picking through voice-automated systems. However, this continues to result in inefficiencies.

At any time, employees in a given warehouse must typically perform multiple actions in order to successfully pick an order. For example, the picker must locate the correct product, scan the product, and deliver the product to the loading dock. However, scene recognition and argumentative reality allowed a camera-operated system to autonomously identify where a product is located if it is the correct product, and how to move to the next product at a faster pace. All of this information is displayed to the user of the augmented reality-enabled device.

AR is also being used for transportation optimization as well. On the consumer-end, Volkswagen has created a vehicle that can display the current speed, status updates, and other information on the windshield of the vehicle for improving the safety of the driver. Yet, truck drivers spend up to 60 percent of their time away from facilities locating the correct order in the truck, not driving, explains Karolina Maziliauskaite. This is unacceptable. AR could be used to help a driver rapidly identify exactly where the shipment is located within the truck, cutting the amount of time spent not driving drastically.

What is the Future of the Augmented Reality Supply Chain?

The applications of augmeted reality in the future of the supply chain are limited only by the imagination. Since AR allows a non-tangible aspect of business to take place on top of the physical parts of business, AR will dramatically change how consumers and businesses view typical processes within the standard supply chain, thus creating an augmented reality supply chain.

For example, the process of item repair and reverse logistics could be made much simpler. AR could be used to help an entry-level tech immediately identified incorrect circuits and problems within a given product.

On the other hand, augmented reality could be applied to a video stream from the consumer of a current product’s condition. This video could be applied to the AR aspect on the business-end or customer service-end of the augmented reality supply chain to immediately identified what is wrong with the product. As a result, the consumer does not lose any time in bringing the product into the store, the supply chain partner does not lose any time in analyzing the problems with the product, and the consumer is able to obtain a repair or replacement at a faster pace. The level of consumer service is increased, which helps to propel the entire supply chain forward.

Are There Any Challenges to the Use of Augmented Reality in the Supply Chain?

AR is not without its faults. These brief descriptions of augmented reality rely on some sort of power source, and wearing a battery pack on the head is simply impractical. As explained by Roland Martin,  the biggest challenge to the widespread use of AR is low battery life. The solution to this problem must rely on using technology and innovation to define a new way of getting power to the systems rapidly and efficiently, without imposing a burden on the employees. Ultimately, Augmented Reality may be used to figure out a way to create a smaller, more durable battery to power AR-enabled devices. Essentially, the applications of AR are continuing to expand.

Consumers are demanding more from the modern supply chain, and the level of competition between different supply chain service providers is growing. However, AR will be one of the defining forces of the modern supply chain in 2016, where the augmented reality supply chain will start to shape. Once, the use of radio frequency-driven headset seemed like the best solution to supply chain management and the use of technology. However, the use of technology is taking on a new level through augmented reality, and it will only continue to grow as society becomes more apt and reliant on advanced technologies.