By augmentedlance on 4/5/19 8:10 PM
Your guide to what’s real, what’s not, and what you need to know to successfully implement AR in your warehouse in the NOW-TERM.
For those of you coming to ProMat 2019 in search of what's real and what's not in augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, or smart glass applications for the warehouse and logistics space, this blog is for you. This post is based on my expertise in both logistics operations and AR – and is written to help you weed your way through the noise at the show: Where to go, what to try, and how to find your answers. If you're at the show, let's connect to discuss your next AR projects.
WHAT TO EXPECT
There will be a lot of noise, a lot of “booth bait,” and cool AR software demos that are actually designed to lure you into a booth. Much of this isn't deployable, or doesn't really exist today, and frankly, isn't going to drive value into your operation. And that’s NOT why you’re at ProMat. You’re there to solve real problems in your warehouse, with AR that can:
- deliver immediate solutions for peak season problems
- solve near-term space constraints and throughput choke
- expand the capacity of your existing fixed automation
- train your temporary workforce faster to drive accuracy
- make tasks simpler and faster for your workers
- boost productivity, and deliver real ROI now
And AR can help you do all of this – IF you know where to look.
So before we dive in, here’s a quick recap of my background for those that don’t know me – I’ve spent about 15 years in the warehouse and logistics space, and the last 4 years in this budding AR industry. I have unmatched expertise in this industry, having the opportunity to see thousands of AR pilots and deployments, many of those in the warehouse space.
What I do today: develop action plans for companies like yours to succeed with AR. And not AR for the distant future, not for innovation for innovation’s sake. AR answers that impact your current business cycle. That deliver real ROI now. That actually solve the problems that logistics professionals, warehouse managers, and DC operators all face today – near-term peak season. AR for the NOW-TERM.
So let’s talk about what’s real vs what's hype, what's deployable today in AR for logistics, and how it can solve your problems.
WHAT TO AVOID: BOOTH BAIT
Frankly, what you’re going to see with AR at ProMat is a lot of booth bait. Tons of booths with brand-new Microsoft HoloLens or Magic Leap devices with people pinching and clicking and seeing all kinds of magical, wonderful things.But most of this won't be real. And very little will be deployable.
And it won't be solving warehouse problems.
It’ll all be excitement to get you into the booth to get you to buy their standard products – which have nothing to do with AR or smart glasses. They'll talk about innovation. They'll talk about next generation. They'll talk about the future. But keep walking, and head to where AR is actually making a difference.
WHAT TO GO SEE
Focus on what’s deployable today.
For those of you who are actually looking to solve problems with AR, to enable your warehouse workers with the latest technology that will make their jobs easier, and will make their performance better, then you really want to focus on the actual smart glass hardware that's deployable today.
So these fall into two categories: Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). VR is a completely disconnected full immersion experience, best suited for training, modeling, and sales. I'm not going to focus on VR in this blog, but rather focus on AR, which can be used in the real world out in the warehouse. And ProMat will be the perfect opportunity to focus on a few key areas where AR is really impacting logistics today and driving true ROI.
TOP AR APPLICATIONS FOR WAREHOUSES:
The most compelling applications for AR in the warehouse fall into 3 main categories:
- Remote Support / “See-What-I-See” Video
- Step by Step Work Instructions
- AR Visuals-Based Warehouse Operations Execution – e.g. virtual pick/put-to-light
Let’s take a look at each of these, and where to find them at ProMat.
Remote Support is the most highly-deployed application of smart glasses and AR in the world today.
And for the warehouse, the value is obvious.
Imagine: Your line sorter system has broken down. You need to get it back up – fast. Operations are stalled, and product is not going out the door. You’ve got the maintenance worker at your DC, an engineer in Germany, the support desk engineer . Everyone’s in a different place, and the clock is ticking.
What do you do?
The old school method was hold up a cell phone, talk to it, and have that person on the shop floor describe to the technicians the problem they're seeing. How many times has that resulted in misinformation, communication gaps, and wasted time?
See-What-I-See video on AR smart glasses solves this. Wearing smart glasses, the person onsite with the broken machine can share exactly what they’re seeing through the camera. Now, all three participants share the same point of view, collaborating visually in real time. They’re able to give much more informed and relevant advice, plus annotate and draw on the view to help troubleshoot.
With a better look at what’s going on, the team can get the machine up to speed faster and easier. And the ROI is measurable – making it easy to understand why this is #1 use case for smart glasses in the market today. Frankly, every single warehouse should have this. And every OEM, manufacturer, integration supplier, anyone who's provided you support – should provide this as a default support service. Unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet.
But there are several companies at ProMat that are doing a great job here. And probably the biggest name is Honeywell (Intelligrated) Booth S618B who offers a product called Tech Site that's leveraging smart glasses - specifically the Vuzix M300, and the RealWear HMT-1. These smart glasses are wearable and deployable today. And Honeywell’s Tech Site provides remote support, tele-mentoring and training, standard maintenance procedures all through these head-mounted displays that directly connect back to their remote support desk HQ.
The result? Faster uptime, always accurate manuals, and a ton of ROI to users.
AR work instructions are step by step instructions seen in the eyepiece of the smart glasses, that guide the wearer through a step-by-step process hands-free, often capturing and validating data in each step. This can be used for installation, maintenance, or actual operations.
So imagine you have to fix a line conveyor. You're underneath the conveyor with a wrench in one hand, and oil in other. So how are you supposed to hold up a cell phone or tablet to see instructions?
Wouldn't it be better if you had the instructions right on your face? If you could talk to it, scan an image, and have it show all the information needed as you go through each step of the process? And if it was validating data all along the way to make sure you do the right thing at each step?
With step by step instructions you get exactly this.
Think about step by step instructions as taking someone through a standard maintenance procedure, or walking a warehouse worker through the picking, packing, or kitting process. This can be valuable in both complex and routine tasks. For complex tasks it helps simplify and guide, and in other cases it helps protect against the errors that come up with the mundane standard workflows.
Another way that we're instructions like this really help is your temporary workforce. How? The learning curve is much shorter. The time to train people is much faster. Workers are able to do more, faster, accurately, and with the confidence and instant success that breeds retention.
Who to see:
A lot of companies are providing work instructions with AR, and a few highlights to stop by at the show would be:
RealWear (Booth 1480): one of the leading smart glass hardware providers, RealWear’s HMT-1 head-mounted display is widely deployed in manufacturing and warehouses today. The device is fully hands-free, completely controlled by voice commands, and allows workers progress through tasks following instructions conveniently located in their view as they work.
For work instructions more focused on actual order fulfillment, packing, etc., there are several others at ProMat like PC Data (Booth 4227), JASCI (Booth 1070), and Voxware (Booth 3975), who has expanded to offer augmented reality to complement their voice products. Workers wearing smart glasses can see instructions, as well as scan barcodes with the camera, progressing via voice commands.
Also keep an eye out for Vuzix M300 and Glass Enterprise Edition, two smart glasses hardware systems often deployed in warehouse environments. Neither of these companies are exhibiting but you’re likely to see them around the show and on some of the software vendor booths.
AR Visuals-Based Warehouse Operations Execution – e.g. virtual pick/put-to-light
There are few AR solutions for actual high-end warehouse applications. True Augmented Reality where the visuals themselves deliver the instructions.
For more complex tasks like picking, packing, receiving, replenishment – applying AR successfully require extensive industry knowledge, real-world application, experience, good software, and hardware that’s going to survive in a warehouse environment, and that’s going to be accepted by your workers.Think about a put-to-light system that requires no brackets, no wires, no cables. One that you can set up with barcodes. One that you can set up with a rack in the corner of your warehouse, take down the barcodes and immediately set it up in a different area. This type of flexibility. Or the ability to visualize a pick-to cart operation. Think about the ease of seeing exactly what item to put where in a batch cart. Or have visual cues direct a picker to the next location, provide verbal instructions, and persistent visual reminders (no more asking your Voice system: Repeat… Repeat…Repeat!) Or a pick to light operation where multiple workers can be working in the same space and getting completely different visuals to drive them through their applications.
Think about a pick-to-light system where you pay for number of users – not the number of lights!
How much EASIER and natural of an experience is that for a human being?
How much simpler is that for a temp worker to do the right thing and make the right decision?
How much would that allow a team to do things better, faster, stronger?
These are completely different ways of thinking about a warehouse. Flexible. Scalable. Intuitive for the user, and frankly a better way of working. AR solutions for these use cases are out there. But there’s only a handful of companies at ProMat – in fact, only three of them I would put in this category.
The top 3:
- Picavi – booth 5623
- Ubimax – booth 4578
- LogistiVIEW – booth 5268
These are probably the best examples of truly vetted warehouse applications using AR and smart glasses, that are actually deployed in operations today. These top 3 companies are truly disrupting the industry delivering transformational AR for the warehouse industry - TODAY. As I said - we're all about AR for the NOW-TERM.
Picavi (Booth 5632)
Picavi generally uses Glass Enterprise Edition (formerly Google Glass), and provides work instructions for the warehouse worker. Pick, put, packing are the core use cases. They’re installed on hundreds of users across many warehouse, mostly in Europe but now moving here to the US.
It’s a solid product – basically providing a type of pick to cart operation where the worker looks at the screen on their smart glasses and sees a virtual representation of the pick face along with the pick. These visualizations helping them move through the process faster and more efficiently.
Ubimax (Booth 4578)
The Ubimax Frontline application, specifically their xPick application, is used across many different types of smart glasses including Glass Enterprise Edition, Vuzix M300, RealWear HMT-1.
They provide pick instructions, work instructions, as well as See-What-I-See video. In fact, Ubimax is more of an overall software platform that can do many things within your warehouse.
They’re installed in across hundreds of facilities around the world across many different industries.In terms of order processing, Ubimax combines work instructions with representative visualizations often combined with their custom RFID wristband, the xBand. This provides and incredibly intuitive user interface and drive quick user acceptance and minimized training time.
LogistiVIEW (Booth 5268)
LogistiVIEW also does pick instructions, but they do something very different in which they overlay visuals on the real world in front of you. And yes you may see this on hardware like Microsoft Hololens or Magic Leap, but those are lab tools not warehouse deployable. LogistiVIEW actually does the visual overlays using Vuzix and RealWear hardware that is affordable, all-day wearable, and industrialized to handle life in a warehouse environment.
Imagine a virtual Put-to-Light system, set up in minutes, based solely on barcodes. They deliver just that. The worker sees intuitive visuals accurately located on the real world e.g. a light blinking on top of a location that's actually not hardwired in. This means the ability to install PTL without any fixed infrastructure that can be set up today, moved tomorrow, and adjusted as needed. They also provide Pick, Put, Pack Instructions, and a do-it-yourself workflow engine so you can create any workflow process, and deliver that in an heads-up, hands-free, language agnostic AR experience for the worker
They’re installed at many North American warehouses including luxury men’s apparel retailer Peter Millar – who implemented this in less than 90 days from idea to live in production.
LogistiVIEW is nominated for the second year in a row for the MHI Best IT Innovation Award, and CEO Seth Patin will be taking the stage in a seminar “Reinventing pick/put-to-light: How AR delivered cost-effective and flexible automation in less than 90 days.”
FUTURE OF AR
Ok...if some of you are still interested to see the future of AR, spatial computing, 3-d mapping, etc. and really are interested in the Microsoft HoloLens or Magic Leap or products like that, then the booth to visit at ProMat 2019 is PTC (Booth 4671).
PTC will be showing off high-end applications of AR. They are industry leaders in applying both AR and best in class computer vision technology with robust tracking, and offer a huge back end platform on devices for devices like the HoloLens. This is your chance to touch it, try it, and experience it.
Keep in mind that some of this may be more more forward-looking than where your warehouse is likely to be short-term – so think of this with more of a futuristic view. Even PTC will tell you they're focused on innovating with industrial AR, and fundamentally AR that connects users across digital worlds. For warehouses, as you’re changing your operations and services, these are high end applications which may not be quite ready to deploy on mass. But this will give you a taste of the future and where this may all be heading.
SEMINARS TO CHECK OUT
AR is a hot topic in the seminar lineup this year, with multiple speakers weighing in throughout the show. Here’s what to look out for:
MHI will cover AR in their session “Latest & Greatest Industry Innovations” where they touch on disruptive technologies along with others like Robotics and Machine Vision.
LogistiVIEW’s CEO will give a talk on “Reinventing pick/put-to-light: How AR delivered cost-effective and flexible automation in less than 90 days” covering how AR-based vision pick & put walls are reinventing traditional put to light technologies and enabling a new “Flexible Automation” for the warehouse.
Atlatl Software will be talking about how AR can be leveraged in the sales process – we’re curious to see how applicable this is to warehouse and logistics overall.
LET’S MEET AT PROMAT TO DISCUSS YOUR AR NEEDS
And if you’ve been thinking about deploying AR in your logistics operation – and are hitting a wall in the process – we should talk.
Schedule a meeting with me at ProMat here.
My company Lance-AR helps enterprises like yours develop their action plan for successful AR deployment. We have the market expertise to help you build a roadmap to extract the full value of AR – with clear costs, timelines, and risk mitigation, and a clear path to ROI.
Not AR for a distant future, but AR answers that impacts this business cycle and this peak season.
Let’s meet to discuss your needs, or schedule a 30-minute consultation.
Be sure to follow Lance-AR for more blog posts like this, follow us on social, and stay tuned for my post-ProMat blog post breaking down the key takeaways of AR for the warehouse.