A Just-in-Time Augmented Reality Check

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Courtesy of Ubimax

The German Benteler group is testing augmented reality and Google Glass in its Belgian automotive facility. So far, the results are promising.


You have only a few hours to deliver a series of modules on time and in the right order. Implementing the Just-in-Sequence (JIS) concept, which applies Just-in-Time principles to inventory, requires new strategies from manufacturers.

To meet this challenge, the German Benteler group chose to test augmented reality and Google Glass in its Ghent, Belgium automotive facility. IT operations specialist Pascal de Mul told DirectIndustry e-magazine about it:

We are an assembly plant for Volvo. They require us to use a JIS environment, with four hours between receiving an order and the car leaving the plant. No two cars are the same. Volvo sends us a different order for every car.

Picking the Right Steering Gear

Augmented reality is used for a very specific task: picking the right steering gear.

There are 40 steering gears available for each order. Through Google Glass, each operator receives information about which part they need to pick and where it has to go.

What’s more, this information is not displayed on a real screen but on a virtual one superimposed over reality.

Benteler decided to use xPick from Ubimax, a German company that provides wearable computing packages such as xInspect (for inspection and maintenance) and xAssist (for remote assistance). Using xPick, operators can visually pick rapidly without making a mistake, as the data comes directly from tables updated directly by Volvo.

Courtesy of Ubimax

Courtesy of Ubimax

Using Google Glass

The estimated budget for the pilot project was €40K, with most going to development. The hardware itself is not the most expensive element, even with the installation of a Wi-Fi network to feed data to the glasses.

The surprising choice was Benteler’s use of Google Glass. On the one hand, this device created a massive buzz for augmented reality. On the other, it flopped commercially and is no longer sold by Google. Pascal de Mul justifies this choice: “The frame is [light], and Google Glass provides holographic vision. You can look through the Glass and not at a screen.”

One Order Picking Task

Benteler is using the Ghent facility as a pilot plant, but only for this specific task. Among the 12-order picking tasks in the plant, selecting the right steering gear was the only one requiring such a high degree of accuracy. According to de Mul, augmented reality passed the test and could be implemented in other Benteler plants. The system is easy to use, resulting in reduced training time, a key positive factor.

JIS is a system which doesn’t allow failure. At the same time, this order picking activity relies on three shifts of four to five people, some of them only interns or temporary workers. With this new system, after 10 or 15 minutes max, they were all able to start order picking.

The second plus was accuracy. The picking system resulted in a zero error rate.

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