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Using Augmented Reality to Improve Supply Chains

ASCM CEO

Friday December 16, 2016


There are television commercials airing frequently that show people using their smartphones and other accessories to experience virtual reality. The users in these commercials usually are in studios or experiencing it as a part of everyday life. However, The Wall Street Journal contends that this technology could really make an impact in the workplace, specifically on the factory floor.

In these settings, workers are actually using augmented reality (AR) instead of virtual reality. Smart glasses enable workers to see diagrams and instructions that are superimposed onto their actual work environments. The Wall Street Journal highlights AGCO Corporation, which makes agricultural equipment in Jackson, Minnesota. Next year, company leaders are planning to try 3D imaging and hologram-like images to assist in welding 30-foot booms to chemical sprayers.

“The use of [AR] … is in the earliest stages of commercial development,” Sara Castellanos writes for The Wall Street Journal. “But researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT] say improvement in the performance of AR equipment, like the Microsoft HoloLens, and expected reductions in its cost, will help drive the technology into the mainstream, specifically in the supply chain.” 

In fact, MIT is counting on it and is building a Visual Analytics Lab, which is expected to be part of the university’s Center for Transportation and Logistics. There, researchers and businesspeople can work with hologram images and interactive touch screens that house data. Castellanos writes that data could include customer and product information as well as real-time traffic, weather, and social media data.

Forrester Research predicts that by 2025, large companies will spend $3.6 billion on smart glasses and 14.4 million US workers will have the opportunity to use them and their accompanying AR technology. In 2016, large companies spent $6 million on the technology, and 400,000 US workers already are using it.

Experts point to the benefits that companies such as General Electric, Boeing, and AGCO are experiencing and anticipating. General Electric, for example, will start using AR to help workers record the more than 100 exact measurements required in gas turbine nozzle manufacturing. Mechanics at Boeing use Google Glass smart glasses to assemble complex electrical wiring for airplanes. The mechanics wear the glasses, which show digital images of diagrams and text in their fields of vision as they are working. As a result, workers don’t need to pause to reference directions on paper, computers, or mobile devices. 

Peggy Gulick is the director of business-process improvement at AGCO. She told The Wall Street Journal that AR access to data could help prevent supply chain disruption. Data that usually is buried in computers will now be immediately accessible to workers so that costly disruptions can be prevented. 

How to start?

If you are like me, when you are intrigued by a new idea, you start researching it on the web. I want to draw your attention to the new APICS website, apics.org, and the magazine landing page at apics.org/magazine, which have been upgraded in both design and functionality. Now, you’ll more easily find the information you need about your career and supply chain. Consider, for example, AR, which is a subject featured prominently in the Innovation and Global Trends area of the APICS magazine section. 

The new magazine homepage at apics.org/magazine puts more content right at your fingertips. The four feature stories from the latest issue of the magazine are featured front and center. Helpful newsfeeds direct you to the latest news and the most popular articles. Compilations, or topic areas, will not only help you find articles about Innovation and Global Trends, but also about Data Analytics, Risk, and more. 

Take some time to explore our new website, and find out how APICS can help you master supply chain’s basic concepts and emerging trends.