AR Unleashed: Zebra’s AR-enabled Mobile Computers Open a Vista of New Enterprise Applications
I’m not writing this post to pitch you on Zebra’s mobile computers. Rather, I simply want to dispel any myths that portray widespread enterprise AR utilization as a pipe dream. There are a host of AR use cases poised to make a significant impact on enterprise operational efficiency in nearly every vertical sector – from manufacturing to warehousing, transportation and logistics to retail and even healthcare. And these applications leverage many of the technologies you have already deployed in your facilities and in the field, such as the enterprise-grade touch mobile computers I mentioned above.
With AR, you gain the ability to present workflow directions and instructions to your workers in the field of view on their AR-enabled mobile devices – in a way that is attached to their real-world location. For example, retailers may find AR especially beneficial for buying online and picking up in store (BOPIS) scenarios, and warehouse operators may be able to improve picking accuracy and speed via AR guidance. Here’s how:
Retail Use Case: Buy Online, Pickup In Store (BOPIS)
In 2018, half of all U.S. retailers offered BOPIS. More than four out of every 10 consumers purchased online and picked up in store over the past year, a 43 percent increase over the year before.
As a retailer, you may find it challenging to provide this service in an efficient manner – shoppers do not pay a premium for this service. It doesn’t help if you are constantly struggling with frequent associate turnover, or your associates’ general unfamiliarity with the variety and location of products in your store. However, employing an AR application on your associates’ mobile devices could solve several of your BOPIS logistics and some workforce management challenges.
For example, to maximize your BOPIS fulfillment demands, you might divide your store into multiple zones and assign an associate to be the specialized picker in each zone – such as produce. The picker will likely roll a special cart with multiple bins, each associated with a different shopper order, in order to shop for multiple shoppers’ orders at once. (These carts will eventually be consolidated from each zone to build the final shopper packages.) Using the store planogram, the list of products they need to pick is likely presented today in sequential aisle order via a list-type app on a Zebra mobile computer. The associate then hunts for and picks each product on the shelf, scans them in and then puts them in the corresponding shopper bins.
Here’s the problem with this current workflow: While planograms may contain the precise location of the product (as expected), they only present this product location information to the picker as a “coordinate” – aisle/section/shelf/(maybe) sequence number. When dealing with dozens of very similar products/variants on the same shelf, this presents a cognitive challenge to the picker who is picking for multiple shoppers at once. This, in turn, leads to efficiency deficits.
Fortunately, an AR-powered application running on that same Zebra mobile computer has the potential to dramatically improve the associate’s performance, leading to faster, error-free picking. By just holding the Zebra device in front of him or her and looking down the aisle, the associate can simply follow the AR stickers to identify the precise locations of ordered products and confirm order instructions, such as how many to pick for each shopper and the bin number in which picked items should be placed. This goes a long way to alleviate the cognitive load on the associate, as the AR flag can be placed on the precise location of the desired item – to within an inch.