Augmented Vision Order Picking: 4 Top Applications
For the vast majority of order fulfillment operations, improving profitability means increasing efficiency. Reducing total order cycle time, improving order accuracy, minimizing unnecessary travel within a facility—all of these can potentially help you lower your labor and fulfillment costs so that you can hold onto more of your profits.
A number of different automation technologies like automated sortation, AS/RS, and robotics can help you achieve these goals, and all businesses should certainly take a look at the different systems they could be leveraging to improve performance. But updated equipment isn’t the only path towards improvement. State-of-the-art equipment and technology paired with outdated or ineffective workflows and processes is a surefire path towards failure.
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That’s why it’s also important for operations to regularly evaluate the way your internal processes and new technologies might be able to improve performance levels.
One new solution that all order fulfillment and material handling operations should be considering is augmented vision.
Below, we explore what augmented vision is, how it works, and the various applications that it can support in an order fulfillment environment so that you can understand whether it is an appropriate solution for your unique business.
What is Augmented Vision Technology?
The terms augmented vision and augmented reality refer to technology which in some way shape what the user is seeing and experiencing. It is commonly achieved through some sort of wearable technology, such as a visor or pair of glasses.
This is typically the way that augmented vision works in a warehouse or order fulfillment setting:
- The worker wears a pair of glasses, which is connected to the facility’s WES or WMS
- When the worker looks through the lens of the glasses, they see whatever it is that they are looking at, overlaid with a layer provided by the glasses.
- Exactly what the user sees will depend on the purpose of the system, but typically it will involve a series of information and cues designed to guide them to a certain location and complete a particular task. For example, the user might be guided by arrows, color-coding, and quantities that display on the lens of the glasses.
Benefits of Augmented Vision in Warehousing
In many ways, augmented vision is the next logical step in the evolution of pick-to-light, pick-to-voice, and RFID-enabled handheld picking systems. In fact, it brings together the best of all of those technologies, while avoiding many of the limiting factors which make them less than ideal.
Some of the major benefits of leveraging augmented vision in order fulfillment include:
- It has the hands-free capabilities of pick-to-voice: If your workers are using paper lists and pencils or RFID scanners to pick their orders, they are limited by the fact that both of those methods require them to have their hands full (with either the list, or the scanner). This reduces the operator’s efficiency during the pick process. The operator must put the scanner or gun they are carrying down in order to actually pick the required items to fulfill the order. With augmented vision, the scanner is built right into the glasses, enabling truly hands-free picking, similar to what you would expect from pick-to-voice.
- It has the efficiency-boosting visual cues of pick-to-light (virtual pick-to-light): Pick-to-light technologies are so effective because they make it so easy for a worker to identify the product that they are meant to interact with. This makes it possible to reduce time spent picking each order, lower the number of errors, and make workers that much more productive. Augmented vision works in exactly the same way, but with added benefits and additional cues.
- It is relatively inexpensive: Implementing an augmented vision system in your operation will, of course, require an upfront investment. But this is typically much lower than the cost of implementing a pick-to-light system, for a simple reason: Pick-to-light requires the installation of lights, wires, and hardware throughout your facility. With augmented vision, the lights exist virtually, removing the need for costly installation and maintenance. Pick-to-voice is also a more expensive technology to implement than augmented vision.
In short, augmented vision gives you the hands-free ability of a voice-picking technology along with the visual cues of a pick-to-light technology.
Applications of Augmented Vision in the Warehouse
While order picking is the obvious application that jumps to mind when thinking about augmented vision, it’s not the only way that the technology can help you make your operation more efficient. Applications for augmented vision in order fulfillment include:
- Order Fulfillment: As discussed above, one of the primary uses for augmented vision in a warehouse or distribution center is to support a picking operation, guiding the user to the appropriate location and instructing them on the number of items to be picked for each order. Specific types of order fulfillment applications which augmented vision excels in includes:
- Discrete order picking: From cases, totes, or bulk items augmented vision identifies and verifies the correct items immediately to support accurate and high throughput requirements.
- Pick-to-cart: An operator can be guided by the augmented vision system to make the correct pick and then place the correct item and quantity into the proper open order on the cart.
- Put walls: Both putting and picking activities in a put wall are supported by augmented vision. The extra advantage is the virtual pick-to-light nature of augmented vision allows organizations to utilize additional positions during peak requirements. These positions can be on a section of shelving, rolling rack, a table top… anything. It’s as easy as printing out a QR code and placing it in a cell location. An example of true flexibility and agility.
- Pallet picking: Operators moving up and down rack aisles can be directed to the correct position and then acknowledge the correct pallet position, case on the pallet and even an item in the case.
- Receiving: Augmented vision can allow workers to rapidly confirm orders as they are received. The operator simply scans the case’s bar code. The software verifies its identity and quantity off the receiving order reducing the amount of time for unloading.
- Replenishment: Just as augmented vision can be leveraged to pick orders, it can also be used to replenish positions. In this application, it works exactly the same way as with order picking. Instead of processing orders, though, stock is brought from receiving or bulk storage to an active or reserve stock location.
- Reduced Maintenance: Unlike other technologies, augmented vision only requires the software and glasses. Costly and time-consuming lights, wires, and supporting materials simply don’t exist. This eliminates both the labor and cost of maintaining other systems.
Is augmented vision right for your operation?
Just as with other technologies and other strategies, it is difficult to make a blanket recommendation and say that augmented vision is right for all order fulfillment operations. The truth of the matter is that it will depend on a number of factors, including the specific product specifications, velocity, facility layout, IT infrastructure and how business processes. That being said, augmented vision is one of the simplest and least costly methods of improving performance and should be considered.
If you’re unsure whether or not augmented vision is right for you, speaking with a trusted systems integrator is a great place to start. Click here for a no-obligation consultation.