Augmented Reality Boosts Efficiency in Logistics

Fulfilling customer orders at a warehouse, or order picking, can be costly. A well-known study on warehouse management cited the typical costs of order picking as being nearly 20% of all logistics costs and up to 55% of the total cost of warehousing. The use of technology to streamline order picking offers an important opportunity to reduce cost.  

While great strides have been made in automating warehouse processes, customer expectations also continue to rise. For example, Amazon offers same-day delivery in many US metropolitan areas and this is becoming a standard elsewhere. Increasing fulfillment and delivery speeds may result in increased errors that are not caught prior to shipment.

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Augmented Reality can significantly increasing order picking efficiency. An AR-enabled device can display task information in the warehouse employee’s field of view. Logistics companies such as DHL, TNT Innight and others have been collaborating with providers of software and hardware systems to test the use of Augmented Reality in their warehouses.

A recent study by Maastricht University conducted in partnership with Realtime Solutions, Evolar and Flos brings to light the impact smart glasses can have on order fulfillment. The research sought to:

  • Confirm prior research that smart glasses improve efficiency compared with paper-based approaches
  • Study usability, required physical and mental effort and potential empowerment effects of the technology in a real world environment
  • Assess the impact of an individual’s technology readiness on previously introduced performance and well-being measures

Design of the Study

Sixty-five business students at the University of Maastricht participated in a three-day study conducted in a controlled environment. Study participants were given instructions to pick individual items from bins containing items and place them into appropriate customer bins:

  • One group picked items from 28 bins using item IDs printed on paper and then matched those to IDs on customer bins. The study assessed order picking efficiency by measuring the ability and speed of participants to place the items in the correct customer bins.
  • The other group used AR-enabled smart glasses to scan barcodes in item bins and follow the displayed instructions to place them in the customer bins.

The researchers evaluated metrics such as:

  • Performance measures of error rates and picking times per bin
  • Health and psychological measures such as heart rate variability, cognitive load and psychological empowerment
  • Usability measures such as perceived ease of use
  • “Technology readiness” on a scale measuring personal characteristics such as optimism for, and insecurity with new technologies

View through smartglasses

Faster with Smart Glasses

The researchers found that smart glasses using code scanners permitted users to work 45% faster than those using paper-based checklists, while reducing error rates to 1% (smart glasses users made ten times less picking errors than the control group).

The smart glasses group also expended significantly less mental effort to find the items with the same heart rate variability as the group using paper.

Overall the usage of smart glasses empowers users and engenders positive attitudes toward their work and the technology: in comparison with the group following checklists, they felt the successful completion of tasks was more attributable to their own behavior. This corroborates other studies in efficiency gains such as this one, and demonstrates the level of impact Augmented Reality can have in the workplace.

You can read about more Augmented Reality research from Maastricht University and other university partners at this portal.

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