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Why the Logistics Industry is Going Hands-Free

The logistics industry has been thinking hands-free for years now. In my research for this blog post, I came across an article from 2007 on the use of voice headsets and arm-mounted computers in the warehouse. More recently, ABI Research found that 61% of logistics companies it surveyed are adopting wearable technologies as part of their technology innovation strategy. In addition to logistics companies, enterprises in other verticals are using wearables within their warehouse or supply chain operations. Below are some of the top use cases:

 

DHL

The number one wearable use case in the logistics industry today is arguably vision picking with Augmented Reality glasses like Google Glass and the Vuzix M300. DHL has been exploring wearables with its customers and in different units of its business for several years. In 2014 with the help of Ubimax, DHL Supply Chain and DHL customer Ricoh carried out a successful vision picking pilot in a warehouse in the Netherlands.

For the pilot, staff went about their picking duties, taking cues from simple graphics and text displayed in smart glasses to navigate the warehouse and locate each pick. The glasses allowed for hands-free order picking, which sped up the picking process and reduced errors.

Using Ubimax’s vision picking solution, DHL and Ricoh realized a 25% efficiency increase over the course of the three-week trial. Exel, a unit of Deutsche Post DHL Group, achieved similar results the following year when it gave smart glasses to workers in two of its U.S. warehouses. In August 2016, DHL Supply Chain announced it was expanding its “Vision Picking Program,” with additional pilot sites established across Europe and the U.S.

In addition to picking and e-fulfillment, DHL sees potential in using AR and smart eyewear in other areas, including transportation, last mile delivery, and training of seasonal or temporary workers. In November 2016, Fujitsu announced a partnership with DHL Supply Chain UK to develop innovative services around wearable technology and the Internet of Things.

*Justin Ha, Director of Solutions Design at DHL Supply Chain, will be speaking at EWTS Fall 2017.

UPS

Way back in 2011, UPS adopted a wearable package scanning system consisting of a ring scanner plus a small wrist- or hip-worn terminal, both by Motorola Solutions. The goal was to speed up the time it takes to load packages, prevent misloads, and improve package tracking and data reliability. UPS rolled out tens of thousands of these devices. Of course, today there is more sophisticated technology: Smart glasses, often paired with ring scanners (for items on very low or high-up shelves,) are the new wearable scanning system and the new interface for logistics software.

In 2015, it was reported that UPS was testing smart glass technology to reduce the amount of labeling on packages. Instead of two labels on every package (an address label and a second label identifying the delivery route and truck;) a single barcoded address label could be used that – when scanned with Google Glass – would inform the package sorter of the box’s destination. This simplifies the job and allows workers to be more hands-free.

Currently, UPS is developing and rolling out a Virtual Reality driver training program at nine of its training facilities, to simulate the uncertainties and challenges of city driving. Wearing an HTC Vive or other VR headset, students will go through a virtual streetscape, using voice commands to identify road hazards. The VR training modules are designed for package delivery drivers but in the future UPS plans to expand the tech’s use to tractor trailer workers.

FedEx 

Every second counts when you handle millions of packages a day, which is why the shipping giants were early adopters of wireless technologies and why they continue to pursue the latest in mobile—for the opportunity to shave off seconds from the delivery process.

Since 2000, FedEx parcel handlers were equipped with ring scanners connected via Bluetooth to a device worn on their forearms. Similar to the system used at UPS, the wireless solution scanned each package and provided tactile feedback when a parcel was placed in the wrong container.

On top of supply chain efficiency, FedEx is also interested in wearable technology for the overall safety of the workforce. Its aircraft were equipped with heads-up displays (HUDs) to improve pilots’ situational awareness during night flights and bad weather conditions; and the logistics giant is exploring wearable wellness monitoring.

Crane Worldwide Logistics

From faster picking to better posture: Crane Worldwide Logistics, a large third-party logistics company, tried out a wearable device by KINETIC to reduce the number of ergonomic injuries among its workforce.

Back injuries, strains and sprains are the most frequent and costly injuries in warehouses and other industrial workplaces. REFLEX is a discreet wearable worn on one’s belt or waistband that automatically detects unsafe postures, providing instant feedback to the wearer whenever a high-risk motion occurs. In so doing, the solution helps teach workers how to move safely or use “good biomechanics” on the job.

Using REFLEX, Crane was able to reduce the number of unsafe postures at its Houston, TX distribution facility (where the KINETIC pilot took place) by 84%. The “most improved” worker saw a 96% reduction, from 320 bad postures in a day to just 12.

Bechtle 

Bechtle is one of Europe’s leading IT service providers. In January 2016, after extensive piloting, the company announced the deployment of Vuzix M100 Smart Glasses for vision picking at its distribution center in Neckarsulm, Germany.

Warehouse employees began using smart glasses running the mobile SAP AR Warehouse Picker app and connected to Bechtle’s WMS as an alternative to handheld scanners in select picking processes. The hands-free solution, featuring QR code scanning and voice recognition technology, guided the wearer through the picking process step-by-step without the need for any manual input of information.

This was the first of many potential use cases for smart glasses that Bechtle intended to pursue. The company believed the benefits of Augmented Reality could be reaped most quickly applied to a simple, labor-intensive process like the picking of small parts, though it plans to expand the use of wearables to additional workflows in receiving, complex delivery orders and more.

Sennheiser 

In November 2016, global service provider Arvato partnered with Picavi to launch a vision picking project for audio company Sennheiser. For the purposes of the pilot, a separate pick process was identified in order to evaluate Picavi’s Pick-by-Vision solution in a controlled environment.

Initial feedback from warehouse employees was positive. Having all essential task-based information displayed in front of their eyes through smart glasses allowed pickers to keep both hands on the job, which minimized errors and helped them stack the pallets faster. Workers also found the new pick solution intuitive to use and comfortable to wear while moving around the warehouse.

 

It seems a consensus has been reached after all these vision picking pilots, and that is that smart glasses are setting a new bar in the classic order picking process. Augmented Reality has proved superior to basic handheld scanners and tiring voice picking systems.

Beyond order picking, AR glasses can replace traditional tools in receiving, packing, shipping and replenishment–all areas of the warehouse or distribution center. A wearable device could conceivably “accompany” a package from the moment an order is received to the moment it’s loaded onto the truck for delivery, ensuring a smooth and accurate flow of goods all along the supply chain as well as the safety of all pickers, packers, drivers and other package handlers.

 

About EWTS Fall 2017:

The Fall Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2017 taking place October 18-19, 2017 in Boston, MA is the leading event for wearable technology in enterprise. It is also the only true enterprise event in the wearables space, with the speakers and audience members hailing from top enterprise organizations across the industry spectrum. Consisting of real-world case studies, engaging workshops, and expert-led panel discussions on such topics as enterprise applications for Augmented and Virtual Reality, head-mounted displays, and body-worn devices, plus key challenges, best practices, and more; EWTS is the best opportunity for you to hear and learn from those organizations who have successfully utilized wearables in their operations. 

 

photo credit: vic_206 DHL Air / Airbus A300B4-622R(F) / EI-OZM via photopin (license)

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