Vision Picking – the ultimate “operator to product approach”?

In the last logistics lectures, a strong focus was on the picking activity in warehouses. Seeing the technological and highly automated approaches of “product to operator” just as the KIVA System – or now called Amazon robotics – that are used by the big companies, is very impressive. But these solutions driven by digitalization are not realizable for all warehouses, especially when a lot of flexibility is required. So, I asked myself: What about the traditional “operator to product” approaches? Do they have a future?

And yes, they have! A few days ago, one of the most important logistic service suppliers, DHL Supply Chain, announced that they will foster the use of smart classes in their warehouses and hubs. The use of smart classes is part of an approach called “vision picking”.

Traditional approaches:

The traditional paper pick list was replaced a long time ago by electronic systems. The hand-held scanner has the disadvantage that the picker´s hands are not free. Pick by light approaches are inflexible and expensive, especially when warehouses are rearranged. Pick by voice solutions require an intense concentration of workers and are not efficient for high picking densities.

Vision picking:

Pick-by-vison is an “operator to product” approach where smart glasses help the picker with doing his job. The smart glasses use “augmented reality” in order to display the needed information in the visual field of the operator with the help of Wi-Fi. This means that virtual images are built in the visual field of the operator.

Check out the following video at 1:18 min to see how the smart glasses work:

The glasses not only supply important information about the
picker´s actual task, they also…

  • …indicate in which shelve or on which pallet the target product is.
  • …show the fastest and most efficient route to the location of the product.
  • … allow the operator to scan the barcode by just looking at it by using an integrated scanner.
  • … indicate if the picker has identified the right product.
  • … tells the picker how many items should be picked. 
  • … can integrate voice inputs and have integrated headsets.

In the following video, you can see through the eyes of a picker wearing the smart glasses and pick goods:

Example DHL:

As mentioned above, DHL Supply Chain is using the smart glasses since 2015. After first test, the company rolled out the “vison picking” in almost every region. Also, DHL Express used the smart glasses at its most important hubs in Brussels, Belgium and at the airport of Los Angeles. The implementation at the US-airports New York, Cincinnati and Chicago are planned. Also, big production companies like Samsung, Volkswagen and Opel are already using this technology.

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