Immersive Technologies in Supply-Chain management
It is widely known that there are a number of technologies that will change the way we work in the supply chain. According to a report prepared in 2020 by Gartner, immersive experiences are a technological trend that withhold potential to radically change the sector, with new models and processes able to amplify human capabilities.
In this post, we’ll discuss the benefits of immersive experiences in supply-chain management, which are already recognized by many companies, as well as the challenges and barriers to its full implementation and development.
What are immersive experiences?
An immersive experience can be defined as a situation in which a person has the perception of being in a virtual location, that is, in an environment different from what one is actually experiencing. For it to be realistic, it must involve the senses of sight, touch and hearing.
We can summarize the main types of immersive experiences as follows:
Virtual Reality (VR):
The virtual environment completely replaces the physical, with no interaction with the real world. Example: a computer game that uses special glasses and headphones. These equipment make the player, represented by a character, immerse in the virtual world of this experience. What makes all this realistic is the control the participant has over his avatar.
Another example is the simulator used in driving classes for motor vehicles and piloting aircraft and helicopters. When using this machine, the student has the feeling of driving a vehicle or on board an airplane, allowing him to test the commands learned.
Augmented Reality (AR):
Its technology corresponds to the superimposition of virtual content with a live broadcast image of the real world. It is useful for providing additional information while completing tasks in the real world.
An example is to receive guidance or even test a specific product during your purchase, such as trying on clothes in a virtual mirror. This technology can also be used in the projection of instructions to repair the car in front of the hood, for example, making it easier to follow them.
Mixed Reality (RM):
As the name implies, it is the combination of RV and RA. It can be considered, in a way, an advanced form of AR, since the technology allows users to fully interact with virtual items superimposed on the real world. In the example of repairing a car, mentioned above, instead of changing and controlling the images and information projected on the computer, it would be possible to interact with the projection itself.
Creating an immersive experience
Creating an immersive experience is complex and requires highly qualified professionals. But there are three factors or components, fundamental to this creation:
- An electronic device (such as a smartphone, pair of 3D glasses, headphones or a virtual work environment);
- The ability to create or expand the virtual world as the user interacts with this reality;
- The possibility of superimposing aspects of the virtual world to the user’s view of the real world.
In addition to in-depth knowledge of technology and equipment, having accurate information about the user’s profile and the context in which the experience will be applied are essential. For applications in the logistics area, for example, it is important to know in depth the challenges of the field and implement it gradually, creating and testing simpler versions of the application before developing its final version.
Immersive experiences in supply chain
According to a study developed by Deloitte, since its creation, in the mid-1950s, Virtual Reality has been developing rapidly in recent years, ceasing to be a niche technology. However, these innovations, which promote the improvement of equipment and synchronization of human and virtual activities, have not yet reached operational maturity for large-scale implementation, encountering difficulties related to a broader application for industries and users.
In the case of VR, we can mention some uses: for example, in tracking goods within stocks, the glasses that use the “inside-out” technology (with cameras and sensors attached to the device itself) are able to determine the position and orientation of the surrounding environment with great precision. In this way, the employee who uses this device is able to work in the stock, and even move goods through the control of robots, without being in person at the warehouse (see a video on this case).
There are still barriers related to computational power, price, security and user perception. However, companies in the field of development of more advanced hardware and softwares are making heavy investments in order to reduce these difficulties.
The study in question also raises some benefits of using immersive experiences in supply chains:
1. Less processes and faster product design time:
Teams around the world can work together on the design of products and processes through immersive experiences. In addition, there’s no need to produce a physical prototype, so experimentation costs are reduced. In the design of a production line, for example, it’s possible to produce virtual simulations of its different stages before implementing it. Consequently, you learn collaboratively what the processes are and get insights on how to optimize it.
2. Visualization of complex data and reducing the risk of operational problems:
The adoption of RV and RA also becomes an option for obtaining and digitizing information, along with other existing technologies, reducing the possibility of technical difficulties (such as the loss of a batch of products) to happen in stages of the supply chain.
In addition, when using 3D technologies, the organization is increasingly supported by data (of different types and levels of complexity) to plan its activities and processes. For example, when testing AR technology in inventories, it becomes easier to access information about the position of a particular product, optimizing the search process. In addition, the use of printed checklists of the selected materials is eliminated, giving greater control of the stock.
3. Increase in training efficiency:
Studies show the efficiency in applying virtual reality and augmented reality to the learning processes, offering important tools for teaching the best practices related to decision making (simulating real situations that require action) and learning procedures from attempt and error with low risk. Also, shared visualization and interaction through avatars and simulations in real time bring a series of insights to optimize supply chains. We can mention the realization of training simulating high risk scenarios, allowing the teams to identify, prioritize and analyze variables, reducing the risks of the task in the real world.
It’s important to note that there must be criteria for the evaluation and implementation of this type of technology, meaning, an understanding of how it will be used and will connect with existing systems. In addition, it is suggested that the company carry out small pilots to validate applications that can have immediate benefits and scalability.
You should also be aware of issues such as:
- Functional implementation (which areas and functions should be prioritized);
- The existence of technological infrastructure and a specialized team in this field, in a way that everything works correctly – this is an important point, since few professionals in the market dominate this type of technology;
- Information security and regulations (whether new laws will be drafted or current ones, such as intellectual property, will be adapted to the virtual environment);
- The operation of these devices and the perception of their users (in order to avoid health problems).
Cases of VR and AR applied to Supply-Chain Management
There are several cases of success involving companies that are already using this technology applied to supply chain:
- Automotive companies, such as FIAT, offer virtual test drives and make changes to the design of their cars from immersive experiences (video);
- As mentioned earlier, logistics’ teams use equipment to facilitate the location and access to information about a material in the warehouse (video 1 and video 2);
- Companies from different branches already use these technologies to train teams, by simulating situations (video);
- Tests have also been carried out to simulate the supply of markets using VR and robots, avoiding risks to employee’s health (video).
In addition to these examples, there are numbers that reinforce the relevance of this technology: according to projections released in 2019, the global market for Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality is expected to generate approximately US $ 100 billion (R $ 376 billion) in 2020. This figure probably suffered changes in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, but reveals an unquestionable importance of VR and AR.
Challenges of immersive experience
Although these experiments are more frequent in some areas (such as entertainment), they can bring a series of benefits to different industries and even reduce costs in the long run. Also, there are some crucial elements that strongly impact the implementation of immersive experience in companies, being the cultural factor one of the most important of them, since the assimilation of disruptive technologies takes time to happen, and can only be seen, in many cases, in the long run. It is alleged that VR and AR came “before their time”, as there is still a lot of difficulty and resistance to use.
Experts who analyze changes in technological paradigms say that people respond in different ways to the need to learn to deal with disruptive technologies: while there are early adopters, who use new technology without difficulty, there are also laggards, which resist the change and only adopt the use when they are obliged (sometimes, because they have great difficulties in understanding it).
Thus, it is important that the implementation of these solutions is aligned with the company’s operational need, the budget available for its implementation and maintenance and the company’s reality (considering the cultural dimension). In other words, do not adopt it only because it’s something trendy to have.
In addition to the technologies related to the immersive experience, several others have influenced the global supply chain. To learn about these other trends and their applications, follow Soluparts Blog.