How AR is transforming Supply Chain Management
On October 4, a special SCM program took place: connect to innovate. Where multiple experts share their vision for the future of supply chain management. My own session was part of the afternoon program, which gave me the opportunity to listen in the morning to the story of Patrick Crampton-Thomas, VP SAP Supply Chain Management. He began his session by outlining the five largest market drivers within SCM:
1. Connectivity: we order products anytime and anywhere from our smartphone.
2. Personalization: personalized products are the new standard.
3. Speed: we expect orders to be delivered very quickly.
4. Collaboration: with suppliers, departments and partners are all part of the supply chain.
5. Responsive manufacturing: you must have the flexibility to be able to deviate from the planning, should the circumstances require it.
This got me thinking about augmented reality, which has been my area of expertise since early 2011.
>> Can this AR technology help supply chain professionals to stimulate growth within their organization?
As far as I’m concerned, the answer is simple: yes, for all the five drivers. Below four cases coming from my very own ‘kitchen’ twnkls, to explain why this is the case.
1. IKEA Place
On September 13, 2017, IKEA launched a brand-new app co-developed by twnkls: IKEA Place (see press release). The app makes it possible to position IKEA virtual products in your own living room, where they are shown in 3D. They are life-size, with textures you can almost feel and with accurate light conditions. With the app, IKEA enables their customers to become more involved. With the IKEA Place app, customers are now able to interact with the products in their homes, rather than browsing mindlessly and hurriedly through the paper catalog.
Furthermore, IKEA Place is helping IKEA to make the transition from large shop locations and even larger warehouses to smaller shops and less inventory. The consumer’s own home becomes the showroom and their tablet becomes a smart catalog. Thanks to augmented reality, IKEA can even open up shop on the Rembrandtplein in Amsterdam or at the Coolsingel in Rotterdam, allowing for the centralization of warehouse management. This, in turn, makes it easier to respond quickly to changes in the market.
SCM market drivers: IKEA Place enables consumers to use their smartphone (connectivity) to configure and order products very quickly (speed), which means that IKEA can say goodbye to the large inventory and respond more quickly to changes in the market (responsive manufacturing).
WEMO develops, builds and installs production lines and tools for punching, bending, joining and working sheet metal. WEMO products are highly specialized and relatively complex to use in practice, which can make it quite challenging for operators to man and maintain the machines.
By implementing augmented reality, we have now tackled that problem. Operators man the machine with a special pair of glasses. The operation panel is projected virtually into the room and the operator sees directly the current and upcoming orders. He starts and stops the machine with simple hand gestures. On the right-hand side, he can read all of the sensors from the production line – information is fed directly from the underlying manufacturing execution system. The screen on the left-hand side is the remote expert. If something goes wrong, the operator can send an alert directly to the technical specialist. That person can literally look over the operator’s shoulder and give instructions on what to do.
SCM market drivers: with the augmented reality application, WEMO ensures that its customers can now perfectly operate and maintain their machines. Where before a specialist would need to be flown in to resolve downtime, now the operator can address the problem himself. Therefore, the machine can operate for more hours, which accelerates the production process (speed).
Want to know more? Don’t hesitate to contact me, or subscribe to my monthly AR update with all the latest news on how you can benefit from using AR.
Otolift is a wonderful, family-owned, Dutch company that produces stairlifts for both Dutch and the international markets. A stairlift is a highly personal product that almost always has to be custom-made. After all, every staircase is different, and factors such as the location of power outlets, railings and doors must be taken into account. The process from the first contact with the customer up to the placement of the stairlift traditionally takes one to two months. That was before we introduced augmented reality.
For Otolift, we introduced a tool that makes it possible to illustrate a stairlift in the actual staircase setting in the home, taking into account any objects that potentially stand in the way. Useful not only for consumers but also for the sales team. The sales representative can record the measurements for the stairlift themselves using their tablet, completely free of errors and accurate to the millimeter. After leaving the customer, the sales representative can immediately send the measurements to the factory. As a result, lead time is shortened to about one to three weeks. And that, for a custom-made product!
SCM market drivers: Otolift has drastically shortened the sales and production processes (speed). The company makes use of augmented reality applications to support sales, whereby customers get to see the product in their own home, and for taking measurements (connectivity), whereby a custom stairlift can be delivered within just a few weeks (personalization).
4. Quinso and Twnkls: your factory in a suitcase
In the current network economy, it’s important to forge smart coalitions. To find partners that complement your organization, so that you can provide customers with newer and more complete products. Twnkls has found an ideal partner in Quinso, SAP Gold Partner and expert in software for logistics, wholesalers and manufacturing industries. We make a perfect match, and combine the knowledge of augmented reality with the knowledge of supply chain processes and the related underlying systems. In doing so, we are creating a whole new field.
Together, we help organizations to connect their ERP system and their SAP MII system with augmented reality. The result is something quite unique: a factory in a suitcase. Armed with HoloLens, operators can manage and maintain their conveyor belt. What’s more, since the operator no longer needs to be present at the conveyor belt, they can manage two or even three belts at a time. They know exactly where they need to be at every moment. Just one look at the dashboard of their glasses and they are up to speed on the actual situation and any issues that require their attention. They are not overloaded with information but are shown segments of exactly the information that is relevant at that moment. During connect to innovate, Quinso gave a fantastic demonstration of this. Using a HoloLens, of course.
SCM market drivers: we connect the production floor and the ERP system with augmented reality (connectivity). This means that we make it easier for operators to do their work and to respond quickly when necessary (speed and responsive manufacturing). And, yes, with the fruitful coalition between Quinso and Twnkls, we even satisfy the last driver on Patrick’s list: collaboration.
Augmented reality: adding value in all aspects of the value chain
At Twnkls, we don’t like to talk about what we might someday be able to do. We much rather talk about the concrete applications that can already add value to supply chains today. The cases described above are the ‘living’ proof that augmented reality can make an invaluable contribution to companies in the areas of speeding up production time, minimizing downtime of machines and achieving shorter sales cycles. One condition is that augmented reality is integrated properly into the operational process, by connecting it to the underlying systems. Want to know more? Don’t hesitate to contact me!
Bio Gerben Harmsen
On April 1, 2011, Gerben Harmsen and Lex van der Sluijs founded Twnkls, a full-service agency that focuses on the creation, development, and implementation of augmented reality applications. Since Twnkls ‘dove’ into this market already six years ago, it is one of the few companies worldwide that develop applications at this high level with so much impact.