Archives for February 2016

Augmented reality could be latest software tool to accelerate warehouse work

By Ben Ames | February 25, 2016 | 11:37 AM

Warehouse managers have looked to software for decades in search of faster ways to handle materials and fulfill orders.

DCs have deployed major platforms like warehouse management systems (WMS) and labor management systems (LMS) as well as complex robotic solutions like automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) and Amazon.com’s Kiva Systems robots.

Now the latest wave of supply chain software solution takes a different approach. Instead of bringing data analytics and robotics to bear on the flow of goods, this new strategy focuses on the junction between workers and the materials they handle.

Augmented Reality (AR) is a technique of overlaying simple objects with digital images and metadata. Casual viewers wouldn’t see these new layers of information, but workers equipped with smartphones, tablet PCs, or Google Glass-type video-eyeglasses can see extra layers of digital information tailored to every object.

At first glance, the technology sounds similar to virtual reality (VR), the approach of creating fantasy worlds visible only through three-dimensional goggles or headsets, a recent Boston Globe article points out.

But augmented reality stays focused on real-world objects, enhancing them with helpful information that can funnel instructions to a worker in a DC, warehouse, or factory. Viewed through a smartphone or other platform, a case or pallet tagged with AR could be labeled with its unique identity, destination, and schedule.

One of the top early suppliers of AR systems is the product design software firm PTC Inc. of Needham, Mass. The company plans to help its customers build the technology into millions of commonplace items, from factory equipment to cars to home appliances, the newspaper said.

PTC took a large step forward in crafting new AR applications in 2015 when it paid $65 million to acquire the software firm Vuforia from Qualcomm Corp. By combining Vuforia’s technology with its own engineering software, PTC hopes to spread the use of AR far beyond current sectors such as gaming and consumer products, applying the approach to automotive, aerospace, industrial, and retail businesses.

Combined with product analytics and Internet of Things (IOT) software architecture, AR could quickly deliver a way to help design, monitor, and control products, and to instruct technicians in the appropriate methods of use and service, PTC says.

Home delivery is not always easy

By David Maloney | February 02, 2016 | 5:43 PM | Categories: Supply Chain, Transportation

I have been playing tag of sorts with my parcel delivery company.

Since I work from home most of the time, my son felt it would be wise to have packages intended for him requiring a signature sent to my home instead of his own. He, of course, is not present when most parcel companies come calling, so this seemed a reasonable request.

However, it has not always worked out. I travel a good bit in my job as chief editor, so I am not always home when the parcels arrive. Also, it appears my delivery driver has weak knuckles, as he claims he knocks on my screen door, but I do not always hear him. I have even tried putting a note on the door to request that he knock loudly enough so that I can hear his bidding even when in my office or another room of the house. I really don’t have time to camp at the front door to await his arrival, which is never at a consistent time.

I even told him to open the screen door and knock on the wooden door itself, but he claims he cannot do that. Once, he said, a customer’s screen door “broke” and he was accused of causing the damage.

I can hardly blame him though. Drivers are often under tremendous pressure to stick to time schedules. They don’t want to spend time knocking on doors. I think they also assume that someone is not home. I know that they never knock if a signature is not required – they simply leave the package on the doorstep.

As a father, I don’t want to disappoint my son. If I fail to hear the parcel carrier’s arrival, then it means he has to try delivery again. After a few attempts at non-delivery, for example if I am traveling several days in a row, the package has to go back to the sender or else I have to drive 45 minutes each way to the distribution center to pick up the parcel or pay for it to be re-delivered the next day. I realize there are alternative programs that parcel companies now offer (usually for a fee) which will wave the signature if no one is at home. But that cannot be done for some items, as either an adult is needed to sign for the product, it has too much value to simply leave it on the doorstep, or the sender requires the signature as definitive proof of delivery.

So, there has to be some alternatives for home delivery. For instance, why doesn’t this parcel company leverage its store franchises when a signature is required? I would gladly pick it up there, but I don’t want to pay the fee for something that is really their convenience, not mine. Another solution would be to install delivery kiosks located in strategic parts of the community, such as a grocery store, mall, department store, etc. This solution has worked well in other parts of the world, but has not yet taken root in the United States for some reason. Picking it up at a kiosk and leaving an electronic signature would be a snap compared to playing hide and seek with the deliveryman.

Kiosks would also eliminate the most expensive part of the delivery - those last few miles getting it to my home. That’s especially important for shippers who are under pressure to offer next day delivery (or soon same day delivery) for free. Maybe some day a kiosk solution or alternative delivery method will save my deliveryman’s knuckles from bruising.

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

Thoughts from our editors.

Subscribe to DC Velocity

Subscribe to DC Velocity Start your FREE subscription to DC Velocity!

Subscribe to DC Velocity
Go digital