This past June at the Automate Show in Detroit, there were many interesting, impressive, even remarkable demonstrations of how far robots have come to automate manufacturing plants and distribution centers. That said, it remains clear that demanding and precise manipulation will not be possible with robots for a long time and human cognitive intelligence is still required.
Perhaps the repetitive motions of forklifts traveling from a dock to a workstation can be easily replicated with automated guided vehicles (more than a dozen of which were on display at the Detroit show), but the real nuance of accurate products requires both human cognition and picking accuracy. Based on in-depth data collected over the past three years, we learned that manual processes still represent seventy percent (70%) of the cost of running a warehouse.
Man still has to do the picking
Since humans still have to do the picking, a paradigm shift to AR solutions represents the only failsafe methodology to confirm accurate, immediate and validated product picking and packing. It was mind boggling how billions of dollars in hacky technologies, without any AR validation, continued to be sold with regularity. Even voice dialing technology fails to include the much-needed AR.
Best practice product selection technology reduces the error rate approximately thirty percent (30%). This isn't necessarily because AR scans Google Glass better than other technologies; this is because there is always access to price-relevant information on the visual display.
AR-powered Google Glasses ensure worker confidence, employee engagement and job retention, all of which are more important as the hourly wage for warehouse workers has doubled in the past three years. At these wage levels, the cost of a single wrong choice becomes unbearably unsustainable.
Both young and old warehouse workers appreciate AR-powered Google Glasses. They have traction among Gen Zers and younger warehouse workers because almost all of them play video games and are used to wearing some sort of AR headset. When work replicates a fun human experience, the process is much more appealing to the worker. Older workers have also been widely reported to appreciate AR Google Glasses because they increase confidence and success in proper picking. These older workers are reliable employees in warehouses and distribution centers. While workers are productive and happy, the bottom line is directly affected because inventory levels are accurately updated and reported in real time.
Picking skill increases dramatically because incentives for quick and accurate picking can be sources for bonuses and warehouse success. These warehouse workers can go down the road and find another job that pays a few dollars more an hour; it is the AR technology that keeps them loyal to a particular employer. Young or old, if workers like their AR election, they tell their friends. They become an advertisement for the next new tenant.
Humans are not going to be replaced by robots. Robots are not going to provide the cognition needed for differentiation. Those who choose outdated technologies do so at their own risk. As more AR-savvy warehouse operations managers take over, the market will see the shift to newer, better and breakthrough technologies.