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6 Ways to Improve Warehouse Efficiency with AR & Hands-Free Technology

With more retailers embracing eCommerce and the omnichannel experience, warehouse sizes are becoming more dynamic. There are massive warehouses like Walmart’s latest 630,000 square foot distribution center, and smaller modular warehouses called micro-fulfillment centers, built for the sole purpose of fulfilling in-store deliveries and curbside pickups. 

Managing these spaces requires the use of incredible manpower and the deployment of effective solutions to make them more efficient. With the pandemic still ongoing, customers are demanding that their orders be filled quickly and products be available for pickup within hours–24 hours max, warehousing efficiency has become highly critical to a retailer’s success. 

Why? Because without an efficiently run warehouse, activities like material handling, order picking – which is responsible for up to 55 to 65 percent of warehouse costs –, inventory control management, order allocation, item dispatch, and order fulfillment will take more time (and more money).

Order picking accounts for up to 55-65% of warehouse costs.

Worse yet, warehouses frequently deal with order picking inaccuracies that lead to wasted time, product returns, excess warehouse expenditure, customer dissatisfaction, and supply chain nightmares. No warehouse manager, operator, or retail brand wants to deal with problems like this. 

The good news is that with artificial intelligence, AR tech, and other supporting solutions deployed in the warehouse, can help you keep up with customer demands, improve order accuracy, accelerate order fulfillment, and generally run a more efficient warehouse.

With augmented reality, retail brands can achieve the following in their warehouses:

  • Optimized utility of your warehouse space utility to improve stocking operations and show the best way to use every available space.
  • More visibility into inventory, facilities, and workforce performance
  • More accurate inventory and faster order picking by helping warehouse staff locate an item quickly and accurately using hands-free AR technology 

Now that you know how beneficial augmented reality tech can be, how can you deploy and use it in your warehouse?  

Develop a Custom AR Solution for Your Warehouse Operations

If you’re still on the fence about augmented reality, you should know that retailers have been rapidly adopting this throughout 2021 and will continue to do so over the subsequent years. In fact, the augmented reality industry is projected to be worth over $100 billion by 2024 – that 10X its current market value. In fact, big box retailers and eCommerce giants like Target, and Amazon are currently investing in the technology. That goes to show that there’s a lot of utility and merit to the use of AR in retail.  

For instance, a retailer can deploy this solution in the form of AR-based planograms. This is particularly important if you’re planning to redesign your warehouse’s layout. With an AR rendering, you can preview full-sized visualizations of what the warehouse layout will be, reimagine product placements and see what new routes would look like before making those changes. 

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This will not only save you time, but it’ll also save you a lot of money and increase your warehouse’s efficiency by improving inventory flow, helping you reduce mistakes so you can seamlessly deploy the new layout. 

Every retail operation has its unique warehouse needs and problems, which is why you must adopt a customized approach to the deployment of your AR solutions. A custom AR solution will help you see how you can maximize your warehouse space, boost employee productivity, and streamline your operations, even before implementing it.

Set Up an AR-Powered Picking System Based on Voice and Vision

While a voice picking system isn’t directly tied to augmented reality, the truth is they can complement each other. For instance, through using the augmented reality software in a pick-by-vision technology, a floor manager or order picking employee can detect where the item they need to get is. 

Once spotted, the inventory manager can through voice prompts or real-time instructions, tell the worker or AI powering the warehouse to pick the item and place it where it needs to go – could be in a basket, on the carousel, conveyor, or a floor robot if the warehouse is automated. 

This hands-free solution not only allows the picking employee to do an excellent job, but it also helps improve order picking accuracy –voice picking reduces picking errors by 67 percent– and protects warehouse staff from wantonly touching potentially infected surfaces. 

However, it is not enough to use just voice picking solutions alone – voice picks alone can lead to errors during picking and fulfillment. Warehouses that run seamlessly and minimize picking errors often combine the use of multiple technologies. Therefore, the best solution would be a combination of vision picking, voice picking, and AR technologies. 

Voice vs Vision Picking

Retailers who use Ox’s Vision+Voice Picking technology have seen their picking accuracy go up tremendously, and recorded improved warehouse efficiency. Workers’ productivity has also been boosted due to improved warehouse staff morale. 

A safe working environment is a priority during this pandemic. But with many people working in a warehouse, there’s always a potential risk of an infected person touching surfaces and potentially contaminating them. An AR-powered heads-up solution with a voice picking system will minimize workers’ exposure and encourage them to stay motivated on the job. 

Want to learn more about picking technologies? Check out this blog.

Implement Zone Routing for More Efficient Picking

Order picking is a time-consuming activity when done inefficiently. The same applies when machines that are meant to be used sequentially are not placed close to each other. This leads to long trips for workers when they want to use the machines or pick items that customers ordered. This is not efficient and is often one of the biggest causes of wastage in warehouses and distribution centers. 

Zone routing is the process of locating items in the most optimal locations in the warehouse and providing the shortest possible paths to these items.

One of the solutions to this is zone routing. Zone routing is the process of locating items in the most optimal locations in the warehouse and providing the shortest possible paths to these items. With a combination of your warehouse management system and AR tech, you can create optimized put-away and pick paths for your staff.  

This helps minimize other major causes of wastage like inventory shuffling for accessibility and multiple storage locations. In fact, a good lean warehouse strategy like this can help a distribution center or warehouse save between 20 and 50 percent in warehousing and up to 40 percent in warehouse transport. 

With the help of an augmented reality solution, warehouse managers can easily determine the best locations for various products and items. They’ll be able to avoid inventory redundancies, map out the shortest route for product pickers, eliminate the need for workers to move some items aside to access others, and arrange inventory in the most efficient way possible. 

As a result of efficient zone routing, workers will be able to avoid motion waste –using more activity than is necessary to pick items- and work efficiently. This will lead to faster picks, more pick volume per hour –some warehouses are able to double their order picks per hour with less running or walking around by the workers- and higher picking accuracy. 

Adopt Wearable Mobile Barcode Scanners and Computing Tech

Warehouses must implement system-wide barcode scanning tech. A mobile barcode scanner connected to a database makes it easy for order pickers to pick, pack, sort, and ship the right types and amounts of products to the right customer or fulfillment center. An example is the wearable ring barcode scanner. 

Workers can also be equipped with wearable PCs and battery packs that can last for one full shift. Retail brands can also set up RFID technologies which can help improve handsfree operations in the warehouse or distribution center. 

Some of these devices do not need any human intervention and can help automate many manual tasks in the warehouse. 

Train Workers and Staff With Augmented Reality Technology

Optimizing a warehouse for optimum efficiency often requires the use of human workers. These workers need to be trained to do the bulk of the work necessary to keep the warehouse running smoothly. 

Unfortunately, many warehouse workers are temporary staff, and investing a lot of money in their training may not be the best use of company resources. Yet, retailers often have no choice but to embark on cost-intensive training for these workers so that they can carry out their tasks effectively and without mistakes. This particularly applies to warehouse pickers.   

The good news is that augmented reality technology can provide you with a cost-effective way to train warehouse staff to be effective at their job in half the time it would normally take to attend training classes. With the aid of digitalized information that the trainees can access at any time, trainees can be self-taught and learn how to adapt very quickly to warehousing operations. 

Download: How to Optimize Your Logistics Model with In-Store & Micro  Fulfillment Centers eBook

Using artificial reality, workers can learn on the go and improve their picking efficiencies within a very short timeframe. Retailers looking for an easier, hassle-free way to train their warehouse workforce and get them to perform optimally, will find that resource in augmented reality technology. 

It can also be useful in providing guidance on tasks that are rarely performed. This means that your workers would be able to work fast, tackle any unfamiliar challenges, and get the job done in the quickest way possible with no errors. In fact, a 2-month study at BMW showed that workers who use AR are saved 22 percent more time and made 33 percent fewer mistakes during an 8-hour shift. 

Improve Inventory Management and Minimize Picking Mistakes

Manual inventory checking and management is a physically exhausting and mind-numbing task. The old ways of doing things –paper-based picking methods- increased the likelihood of picking errors, long product wait-times, and prolonged order fulfillment. 

Using AR tech, pickers can be more efficient and accurate in fetching items and warehouse managers can manage inventory using a hands free approach. Thanks to augmented reality’s object identification features, warehouse pickers can easily identify the correct shelves or boxes where the ordered items.  

When the item is picked, the AR software will recognize it as picked, and send that data to the WMS in real time, while indicating the location of the nearest item on the picklist. 

When AR is combined with artificial intelligence and machine learning, warehouse managers can analyze complex data and provide reports on inventory shortages, past, present, and future trends, as well as, help manage the flow of goods in the warehouse. 

Warehouse managers can get real-time updates and feedback on the state of the warehouse’s inventory. For example, if the warehouse is running low on a high-demand seasonal item, the warehouse manager can easily spot the shortage on time and order new batches to arrive before the available stock is exhausted. Augmented reality technology typically uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to track and manage inventory, product supply, and demand. 

Final Thoughts

Smooth-running warehouse management systems can often be the difference between a satisfied customer and an angry one. Some warehouses still use the transactional supply chain approach that was more prone to errors, had a narrow focus on processes instead of outcomes, and produced delayed data/information. 

But with augmented reality technologies like Ox integrated into your supply chain system, you can have access to real-time data on your inventory, enjoy improved end-to-end outcomes, prevent overstocking, and operate a dynamic, agile supply chain guaranteed to enhance the efficiency of a retail brand’s warehousing operations.

Ox is an AI-powered augmented reality platform that utilizes machine learning for increased warehouse and supply chain efficiency. Deploying Ox along with a high-performing warehouse management system can lead to fewer manual tasks and drastically increased automation, as well as a highly streamlined and seamless warehouse operation that saves cost, improves workers productivity and accuracy on the job, minimizes errors, and optimizes your fulfillment operations.

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