Tom van den Berg

Augmented Reality, the future in warehousing?

Augmented Reality… you have probably heard about it, but have you ever actually seen or used it? And will it play a role in the ‘warehouse of the future’?

First things first: Augmented Reality is the integration of digital information with the user's environment in real time. Unlike virtual reality, which creates a totally artificial environment, augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it. Source Techtarget

Augmented Reality comes in different forms, though for warehousing, an AR-glass including camera and barcode scanner seems the best fit. These devices are already available on the market, but what are the actual up- and downsides?


Hands-free warehouse operators

One of the major benefits of using an AR-glass, is the fact that the warehouse operator does not have to carry any RF-scanner, picklist or similar. Thus, his or her hands are free to pick, pack or putaway goods.

System-guided processing including navigation

Similar to using RF-devices, an AR-glass can guide the warehouse operator during processing. For example, think of assigning a warehouse task which source bin is close to the current location of the operator. Next to that, an AR-glass is also able to guide – or navigate – the worker through the warehouse via arrows and highlighted warehouse areas.

Error-prone processing

Augmented Reality assists warehouse operators in performing their tasks. Although there has not been much extensive research in this area, it seems very plausible that the chance of errors (mis-picks, etc.) decreases dramatically. For example, compare the chance of making a mistake when picking a large order with different products and quantities via picklist with performing the same task via a system-guided AR-glass…


So, it seems clear that Augmented Reality can deliver some major warehouse improvements. But what are the downsides?


As mentioned, AR integrates digital information with the real-time environment. This means that the warehouse operator has to combine both ‘worlds’ and use it during the day-to-day activities. How does this affect the mental state of the warehouse operator when wearing the device during an eight or ten hour workday?


Imagine:  an operator is performing a pick task and is distracted by the information projected on his AR-glass, and therefore he does not notice the reach truck coming from a narrow isle on his right. Dangerous? Maybe, but on the other hand, you could also think of an AR-application which actively scans the environment and notifies the operator of the nearby reachtruck.


Last but not least: security. An AR-glass is a powerful device with a camera and an internet connection. In theory, it is possible to think of a scenario where your device gets hacked, thus providing the hacker with valuable information about your warehouse operation or product portfolio.


As with any new technology, AR is not perfect. However, at McCoy & Partners, we believe that Augmented Reality has the ability to simplify the day-in-a-life of a warehouse operator. Therefore, we are convinced that AR will definitely play a role in the warehouse of the future. What do you think?

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