Augmented reality in the supply chain industry

by Ashley McMillon

Extensiv Supply Chain Scholarship winner, Ashley McMillon, is a student at University of North Carolina at Greensboro, with a future career in information systems and supply chain management. With a vision of the future of supply chain management, she wrote a winning essay on the future of augmented reality and how it could revolutionize the supply chain industry as a whole.

Here’s her paper:

Augmented reality, a new, exciting branch of continuously evolving artificial intelligence, is making its way into the supply chain industry with promising results. Though the supply chain industry has improved in a variety of ways over the past couple of decades with the introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), and even drones in larger companies such as Amazon to reduce the possibility of human error, the number of technological advancements are only growing. Joining other recent advancements, the new, gripping technology of augmented reality (commonly referred to as “AR”) is in the developmental stages and could be the future of the supply chain industry as a whole.

So, what exactly is augmented reality? The article, “What is Augmented Reality and How Does it Work?”, published by Think Lean Six Sigma, defines it as “a technology that allows the combination or the insertion of virtual elements in the physical environment”. It may be difficult to picture such a technology, as most people would liken augmented reality to virtual reality, which usually includes an entire headset. Though similar, augmented reality could be hidden in an object as sleek and form-fitting as a pair of glasses. In fact, some companies such as Google and Ubimax are testing AR smart glasses in an effort to find solutions to common logistical issues within the supply chain, as discussed in the article, “Five Ways Augmented Reality Enhances Supply Chain Management”.

In trials, augmented reality is used to overlay technological information onto the real-world to assist in employee efficiency and reduce human error. The technology can be used to train and guide employees through a task and can provide manuals and other helpful tools at immediate disposal by voice command or movement. This not only increases efficiency but productivity. According to a study conducted by the ABI Research team, employees who use augmented reality are able to start producing results sooner than what has been possible with hands-on, human training. The overlay of technology onto the real world can provide helpful insight into a task or an object in question, assist in inventorying, identify items, solve problems, and can be used to complete tasks and record accurate information as it is collected.

The capabilities of augmented reality could eliminate the use of excess paperwork, physical manuals, and even most of the human training that is typically needed for employment within the supply chain, particularly within logistical channels such as warehousing and transportation management. The ABI Research team also reported that companies who are testing augmented reality have reported increased efficiency, reduced costs, improved safety measures, reduced human errors, and a quick return on investment.

Augmented reality could shake the supply chain industry as its benefits provide quick solutions to common issues within the field, such as misreported information and postponement. With technology developing rapidly, it is possible that artificial intelligence may be incorporated to provide real-time, relevant, and accurate suggestions to employees. With a “mind of its own,” artificial intelligence, paired with augmented reality, has the potential to both solve common logistical issues and improve the supply chain industry as a whole.

The ground-breaking, recent technological advancement will soon infiltrate the supply chain industry and change the field for the better. Starting with big tech companies such as Google, augmented reality will solve many logistical issues, provide employees with helpful guides and insights into their work, increase efficiency and productivity, and will streamline supply chain processes within logistical channels. Augmented reality will have the heaviest impact on warehousing, transportation, distribution, and operations as the technology will automate and digitize previously manual processes, which will also aid in the reduction of a company’s production costs.

Companies who invest in the technology are sure to have a quick return of investment that will set them apart from competitors, and AR is the next big advancement in supply chain management.