– Supply Chain Insight –

Warehousing virtually

Title Syncontext

Warehousing Virtually: how virtual reality technology is making a difference in material handling

In the last 2 years, the way we work has massively shifted. The norm quickly went from always being in person at the office, traveling to conferences, or inviting clients to facilities, to hosting video meetings, online seminars and virtual tours.

The concept of working virtual quickly became a reality. And now the new “normal” of work practically requires it.

While we became accustomed to using more virtual technologies in the workplace, technology from the 60’s is generating a massive wave in how we’re entertained, communicate and now work.

Enter, Virtual Reality Headsets.

Virtual Reality vs Reality:

Virtual Reality (VR) technology has grown immensely, not just in the last 50 years, but also in the last decade. Originally built in a lab requiring an entire room of computer hardware to render a few polygons in 1966, virtual reality didn’t first hit store fronts until 1996 with the noteworthy failure of a console called the Nintendo Virtual Boy.

Unfortunately due to limited technology, VR couldn’t come close to simulating reality until 2014, when Oculus first released its development VR kit, the DK1, and later the DK2.

Virtual Boy


The Nintendo virtual boy was one of the first commercially available VR headsets in 1996 but failed due to overall poor user experience.

In the next 8 years, with new advancements in lenses, displays, and tracking technology, virtual reality very quickly became as good, if not better, than reality.

Today we have VR devices accessible to the masses through mobile headsets like the Oculus Quest 1 & 2, premium level visuals with devices like the Varjo Aero, or 8k resolution with the PiMax, as well as physical systems and suits that allow you to physically run or feel the virtual world you see.

Full immersion VR

Example of full immersion VR with the omni one unit where the user can run, jump and move in VR naturally in place. Note – systems like these aren’t needed to move in large virtual environments, you can use joystick, teleporting, and other programmable systems

With inside out tracking and hand tracking on many VR devices, applications now have much more engaging movement – they don’t just sit still anymore. You can use both hands to interact with a virtual world that could be as small as a conference room or as large as a city.

Hand tracking
Hand tracking / interactions are realistic to that of real life in VR – enabling developers to create unlimited ways to make engaging interactions

Virtual reality today is not that nauseating Google cardboard demo you experienced with your phone a few years ago; it’s a whole new immersive universe that’s changing how we’re entertained, connect with others and now how we work and do business.

So what does that mean for VR in the material handling industry?

VR in Warehousing Today

In a long existing industry where every cent saved matters, virtual reality can provide a tremendous ROI.

Before a warehouse or distribution facility is activated, some of the planning, design, and even team meetings around what the most ideal facility should look like, can be done through VR.

Importance of combining data-driven analytics

Now, it’s important to remember, of course, that both the conceptual and detailed design of a facility, layout and material handling systems should be driven by operational data from the beginning, with no exceptions. This is where Syncontext’s Fulfillment Optimization System, SKUStream, comes in. SKUStream provides actionable and proven analysis and recommendations, based on numerous proprietary algorithms, to ensure your facility is right-sized and designed in the most productive and efficient way.

As it’s all based on your own operational data, it means the output is assumption free and highly actionable from day-one.

Now, imagine being able to walk through a virtual building that you know is custom to your specific needs!

Safety, employee training and on-boarding

Other areas where VR makes a tremendous impact in warehousing is in safety, training and onboarding new employees. An amazing example is Raymond’s award winning platform that enables hands-on training on a variety of their fork trucks.

Raymond forklift training
Screen grab from Raymond’s training system where the user trains on an actual fork truck that’s shut off while using the steering controls to move in VR.

Traditionally, a new fork truck operator needs extensive hands-on training that can sometimes lead to the operator or the trainer getting hurt – not to mention cause damage to facility equipment and product too. With the VR fork truck training, new operators can learn the basics of driving a truck, simulate picking orders, test their knowledge on high risk situations and more – all without leaving a 4m2 space.

Now operators can learn without risks to themselves, colleagues, equipment, or to the facility.

While Raymond’s system covers fork truck safety, our company, Enhance-VR, is working to provide similar opportunities for other hands-on tasks to improve operational performance, and increase safety skills to reduce lost-time-accidents in warehousing.

Enhance VR training
Enhance-VR’s Lock-out-tag-out training in VR enables users to practice working on a 480v panel without any of the risk.

Our company has an all-in-one platform that makes VR for training easy to use, manage, and track user performance through a combination of web platforms and engaging VR content.

In real life, training fundamental skills and engaging workers in a warehouse environment is critical to smooth operations, yet there are still hundreds of thousands injuries and high turnover rates every year.

This is where our VR platform can help by making training consistent, accurate and more accessible.

Consistency

Not every trainer is perfect 100% of the time. Like everyone, they have days they’re not as excited or attentive. In a VR training module, the trainer will provide the same consistent training every time. Beyond that, you can automate processes that would be overly mundane to a trainer but are essential to improving your business. An example would be our up-and-coming VR lifting ergonomics training. Through VR, we can create engaging, gamified experiences where workers can routinely test their lifting form by picking up virtual boxes to reduce MSDs. In reality, this would be a huge undertaking for a trainer to implement over extensive periods of time.

Enhance VR - Training
With Enhance-VR training you can automate training and allow users to have consistent, 1:1 training like in this PPE training

Accuracy

Another area where VR goes above and beyond reality is with data. Since our VR training can be designed objectively, and is completely simulated, it’s like having dozens of unbiased trainers keeping logs of any metric you’d want to know. VR headsets can track where a user is looking with eye tracking, or simply register how many times they picked up the wrong item. If we can program it, we can track it, log it, and analyze the data more accurately than just a trainer watching someone in real life.

Accessibility

In reality, you can’t always access a trainer when you need one. Whether it’s because you have a 24-hour facility or a small facility with limited workers, access to training is essential to making sure operations are both efficient and safe.

Through VR, and particularly our platform, we can pack all the knowledge of a trainer, and a completely interactive warehouse, into a mobile headset. Workers can use the headset on their own time in a large facility, or they could be rented or loaned to small facilities where trainers aren’t accessible. It also allows for training on processes or equipment that might not be able to be shut down frequently. So, while training is done virtually, you can keep your equipment running to continue making your business money.

Pico Neo 3
Headsets like the Pico Neo 3 don’t require a PC to run and allows for a full 6 Degree of Freedom experience.

The list of VR use cases in industry is immense with countless ways the technology can help enhance your business operations. But what about material handling in the future – will the investment in the technology today, still be worth it tomorrow? Undoubtedly, the answer is yes.

VR in Warehousing Tomorrow:

As the material handling industry becomes more and more high tech with robotics, automation and optimization software like Syncontext’s Fulfillment Optimization System, SKUStream, VR is going to become a critical tool to have on hand.

In the early stages of new technology adoption, like robotics and co-bots we’re seeing today, workers still need to know how to safely and confidently work around these robotics. If machinery is potentially breaking down, VR can help train facility technicians on how to maintain equipment.

As automation increases, so do new data points, metrics and analytics that will become difficult to visualize just with a normal computer setup. Paired with a Fulfillment Optimization System, like SKUStream, adding VR to your tool box will help you grow into a more immersive and efficient future.

About the Author:

Matt Gill - Enhance VR

Matt Gill has been working in Virtual Reality for 8 years. After acquiring his masters in electrical engineering, he started Enhance-VR in Binghamton, New York, with a focus to create engaging virtual content and systems. Since then, Enhance-VR has developed a training platform for VR content and user management with a focus to expand into workforce development pathways in order to further help companies find and retain ideal employees through VR applications.

If you want to learn more about Matt and the work at Enhance-VR you can connect with us at www.enhancevr.com!

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