What can we expect in 2022? Technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality and digital twins offer substantial opportunities for automating manufacturing facilities, warehouses and other aspects of the supply chain.
Virtual reality, a tool for creating virtual spaces in 3D, is no longer new. In the B2B industry, it’s been used mainly for prototyping or mapping new environments in production facilities. With the help of VR glasses, the user can see the space, move around in it or even change it. In this way, everyday situations that employees are confronted with in industrial production are mapped and visualized.
The technology can be particularly helpful when it comes to changes in internal processes or training new employees. They learn new work situations through the VR glasses, familiarizing themselves with a new environment while mastering processes and avoiding mistakes.
Facilitating Everyday Work
Unlike VR technologies, augmented reality works primarily visually, although additional information can be superimposed through AR glasses or an external display. This helps users with complex tasks, by projecting the individual steps digitally into their field of vision. AR displays can be controlled using speech, buttons, eye tracking or gestures.
Viewed in this light, AR could gain further ground in 2022, especially in the logistics and process industries. Both VR and AR offer considerable potential in terms of training and simulation.
What all these models have in common is that they create a virtual image. The digital twin, however, takes this idea a step further. It creates a virtual counterpart to a physical object. In the process, it can run through various “what-if” scenarios in production facilities, make predictions and develop possible responses.
With the help of technologies such as 3D visualization, it’s possible to depict conditions in the production hall, while identifying potential hazards for employees. They can identify errors or cumbersome processes to be avoided or optimized, while reading out current data or creating a virtual image and model of work processes. This interaction between people and technology is essential for achieving an accurate process flow and overall greater efficiencies. Such technologies are therefore likely to play an important role in the coming year.
The narrow focus on IT infrastructure neglects an important factor, if not the most important one: human workers. There’s a shortage of skilled workers everywhere, driven by the pandemic and accompanying boom in e-commerce. Many older workers haven’t returned to the active workforce, making job openings even harder to fill.
That’s precisely why we need to focus on human workers and the technology that supports them. Industrial wearables, such as smart glove scanners, can help to generate data that can be shared with other systems. But the technology must be designed to assist the human worker, not serve as a monitoring system collecting personalized information.
Innovation will continue to set the pace for the logistics industry in 2022. But the question remains: How can we best promote collaboration between human and machine? The answer lies in making meaningful progress toward a form of digitization that takes workers along with it, and connects them to the internet of things. In 2022, the key issue will be overcoming the alienation between people and technology. It must be about connection, not hostile opposition.
Technology is indispensable. It opens up new opportunities for achieving efficiency, but it won’t work without people. Their intuition, spontaneity and ability to learn are essential. In 2022 and beyond, the future of supply chains will be all about collaboration.
Axel Schmidt is senior communications director at ProGlove.
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