Companies Are Experimenting With AR Glasses In The Supply Chain

Companies Are Experimenting With AR Glasses In The Supply Chain

To gain an edge over competition, companies are experimenting with early versions of AR Glasses in the supply chain.

Holograms and early versions of Augmented Reality devices are being used by companies to help workers process information. Take for example these special AR Glasses, which display diagrams on the factory floor. Recently, the Wallstreet Journal introduced a few companies leading the way in Augmented Reality…

ar goggles

Dutch company Snakeware is developing software for Microsoft’s HoloLens. PHOTO: FREEK VAN DEN BERGH/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Data visualization is unfolding right before our eyes on the factory floor of AGCO Corp., a manufacturer of agricultural equipment. Factory workers in Jackson, Minnesota, use AR Glasses that display diagrams and images of instructions to help them conduct quality checks on tractors and chemical sprayers. Peggy Gulick, director of business-process improvement, says logging quality checks is up to 20% faster with the use of Google Glass.


In 2017, they will experiment with computer-generated hologram-like images, using the three-dimensional images to help guide workers through the process of welding 30-foot booms to chemical sprayers.

The use of Augmented Reality, which superimposes digital content including hologram-like images onto a user’s view of the real world, is in the earliest stages of commercial development. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say improvements in the performance of AR Glasses and 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.

MIT is working to improve and speed up the process by constructing a multimillion-dollar Visual Analytics, 500-square-foot Lab which aims to be complete bu late 2017. Companies and researchers there can experiment with computer-generated hologram-like images and interactive touch-screen walls embedded with layers of supply-chain data that is often obscured. That information could range from customer and product information to population, socioeconomic data and real-time traffic, weather and social-media data.

matthias winkenbach30-year-old, Matthias Winkenbach, who holds a Ph.D. in logistics and supply-chain management, is running the project. He is an expert in last-mile logistics, or the movement of goods to their ultimate destination. Dr. Winkenbach says “AR can be a game changer in data and analytics because it’s so much more immersive.” He adds, “You’re…experiencing much more than you’re analyzing.”

Early versions of AR are being used by large corporations today and analysts predict its uses will increase sharply. About 14.4 million U.S. workers will use “Smart Glasses,” such as Google Glass and HoloLens, in 2025, up from 400,000 this year, according to Forrester Research Inc. Large companies will spend $3.6 billion on smart glasses in 2025, up from $6 million in 2016, according to Forrester. The global 3-D imaging market, which includes holograms, is expected to grow from $4.9 billion in 2015 to $16.6 billion by 2020, according to Markets and Markets, a research firm in India.

Brian Mullins, co-founder and CEO of Daqri, says holograms are particularly useful tools for visualizing data because they engage the spatial awareness part of the brain that allows humans to understand complex concepts more quickly and promotes greater retention. Mullins is one of the makers of a smart helmet that provides augmented reality-based work instructions and data visualization for companies. “In cases where you have to react with very complex amounts of information, it can tell a much better story than just a bar graph,” said Mr. Mullins, whose six-year-old company has garnered more than $130 million in funding for an advanced AR headset outfitted with infrared, thermal and high-speed wide-angle cameras, which will also allow users to see high-definition holograms in direct sunlight, outdoors.

By January 2017, workers at a General Electric Co.’s Oil & Gas turbomachinery facility in Florence, Italy, will be using AR that superimposes visuals needed to collect more than 100 precise measurements in the manufacturing of gas turbine nozzles. The AR is expected to be applied in factories at GE’s Power and Aviation businesses later next year.

At Boeing Co.’s pilot program at the Electrical Strategic Fabrication Center in Mesa, Ariz., Google Glass is being used to help guide mechanics in the assembly of complex wiring that connects electrical systems in airplanes. Instead of following instructions on paper or laptops, mechanics wear a Google Glass headset that shows digital images of diagrams and text with instructions on where to place the wires. Boeing, which refers to its two-dimensional system as “assisted reality,” cut production time by 25% and reduced errors to zero after using the system.

Ms. Gulick, of AGCO, said holograms and touch-screen walls envisioned by MIT could display data on heat and vibration speed of each machine her workers use to cut, weld and paint components. Visualizing her supply-chain data could be immensely helpful in easily preventing costly disruptions at her factory, because right now, that data is buried in computers. “Getting that data is not as hard these days as making sense out of it for the people that need it to make decisions,” Ms. Gulick said.

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