Wearables on the Factory Floor: JIT in the Information Economy
Advanced manufacturing and supply chain logistics today are actively proving concepts only recently made possible by smart glasses and connected technologies that connect their frontline workforce to data that helps them work faster and minimize errors. Boeing, UPS, and other advanced facilities are empowering human workers to operate more effectively in tandem with connected devices and increasingly automated machinery. Equipped with effective wearable tools, a connected workforce makes fewer mistakes and completes tasks sooner, which means happier workers, better products, and an improved bottom line. The sooner a workforce connects machinery and tools to the Internet of Things (IoT), the sooner they will be positioned to recoup the benefits of more efficient workflows in today’s Information Economy.
As per Gartner Research, manufacturing is already leading all other industries in its adoption of IoT-enabled devices. This makes sense, as the value and longevity of any manufacturing facility are directly linked to how well its technology maximizes output and minimizes waste. Connected devices generate the most accurate and dependable data, which facilitates analysing and identifying pain points and areas of friction with more precision and speed than mere human observation and manual reporting; thus it follows that any lack of connected devices will result in a manufacturing process that is at best less efficient, if not dramatically less productive.
Once the decision is made to implement connected devices within a production process, the natural next step is exploring which solutions and platforms will best leverage the mobility and features of these devices to optimize the efficiency and productivity of the human element within that process. But even if manufacturers are presented with an acceptable off-the-shelf wearable platform (granted, an unlikely premise when it comes to requirements of an advanced manufacturing environment), it’s not enough to simply connect workers to these vast networks of data; the data itself must be sorted, prioritized, and delivered in a manner that does not disrupt the production line or create unnecessary friction within its workflow. This will put emphasis on a developer’s expertise in wearable design and usability when differentiating it from other vendors who can more or less code the same technical solution.
While Forrester estimates that 400,000 workers are using smart glasses today, that number is projected to be over 6 million by 2020 and over 14 million by 2025. What has held back the adoption rate of wearables thus far has less to do with the technology itself, and more to do with the challenges of presenting the business case for wearable technology. It maybe even a bit ironic that justifying the cost of IoT-connected wearables is made infinitely more difficult by the lack of data available for analysis, data that would be more accurate and available if more devices were connected and reports generated. This is why it’s important to introduce wearable solutions in small doses, constantly proving the use-case and iterating the solution to evolve along with the discovery process.
Though the manufacturing and logistics industries have driven hardware innovation for decades, smart glasses and wearable platforms present an opportunity to innovate the human element, which itself continues to rely more on connected machinery that operates within advanced production ecosystems. With real-time, hands-free access to important information, wearables like smart glasses are perfectly positioned to boost productivity, minimize human errors, and improve the speed and reliability of workflow processes.