Bechtle has been employing its vision-guided augmented-reality solution, also called pick-by-vision in Germany, as an alternative to handheld scanners since the end of 2015. Our logistics hub relies primarily on US-based Vuzix’s M100 smart glasses, which can be worn either as traditional eyeglasses or with a headband. The glasses communicate with the solution’s main component: the SAP AR Warehouse Picker app. It was in our warehouse that this Android-based software celebrated its international debut in a productive environment.
The success of the pilot project came as the result of rigorous testing. Bechtle and SAP have been collaborating since May 2014 to drive the integration of future-ready digital technology in warehouse logistics. “We decided to take this step because we knew our in-house IT team would be able to integrate it seamlessly with existing systems. We were also confident that the processes were sufficiently reliable,” reveals Klaus Kratz, head of logistics at Bechtle and the project’s initiator. “By using the solution in routine operations, we learn something new every day. Users communicate their ideas and comments through individual questionnaires, so we can work to improve the solution. Due to the glasses’ short battery life and less-than-optimal screen quality, the solution isn’t ready yet for extensive use. Nevertheless, the common goal we share with our partners is to get pick-by-vision to a point where we can use it across the board.”
The common goal we share with our partners is to get pick-by-vision to a point where we can use it across the board.
Hands-free picking was introduced at Bechtle without any modification to existing warehouse infrastructure. This is because smart glasses use the same wireless network as handheld scanners. In addition, we had already introduced the SAP Extended Warehouse Management (EWM) system—the indispensable core of all our current logistics processes—five years ago. “Had we not ventured that technological leap, we wouldn’t be anywhere near our current ability to implement smart glasses,” clarifies Mr Kratz. Until 2011, small parts were picked using printed packing lists, with little system support. Warehouse staff used to cover an average of 11 kilometres a day per person, walking back and forth multiple times through the small-parts department for each individual order.
Now that Bechtle has transitioned to top-tier, IT-guided processes, items are picked differently. An incoming order automatically generates a new picking bin, which is guided on a conveyor system to the stations closest to the ordered products. As a result, pickers walk up to 50 percent less. Packing slips, shipping labels and other identifiers are printed and added to the package at the very end of the process.
“By staying at the cutting edge of technology, we’re able to meet both growing customer demand and our own efficiency goals. We believe that our role as ‘first mover’ has put us in a position to fully mine the potential of smart glasses, especially their ability to accelerate and improve the quality of our processes,” explains Mr Kratz.
Bechtle currently plans to expand the use of smart glasses to the stocking of small parts and picking of large items. In the short term, however, the goal is to optimise pilot processes with the help of a highly motivated logistics crew, collaborative partnerships and the technological momentum currently under way. The newest generation of Vuzix smart glasses, the M300, is slated to be released for professional use in summer 2016—with Bechtle first in line to try it out.
Head of Logistics
Bechtle Logistik & Service GmbH
Published on Oct 24, 2016.