Wearable technology has become ubiquitous in our lives: smartwatches, smart bracelets, smart glasses. If you can wear it, there’s probably a smart version of it. However, while personal use of wearables is typically limited to counting steps and tracking heart rates, the industrial sector has been embracing wearable technology to drive efficiency, increase productivity, and create a safer working environment.
This trend looks set to continue, with Gartner predicting total wearable sales of $81.5 billion in 2021, while a report by Research and Markets predicts the industrial wearable devices market will exceed $2.78 billion by 2024, increasing annually at a rate of 9.2%.
What Business Value Is Driving Growth in Wearable Adoption?
1. Productivity of the Connected Worker
Workers in the field, factory, or warehouse can now access information through wearables, often replacing a touch interface with one that is voice-driven, allowing their hands to remain free for the job at hand. An example of this is in how wearables increase the speed of operation in warehouses and order fulfillment centers. Dutch fulfillment company Active Ants used Google’s Glass (reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated) to help employees pick and prepare custom-designed products. The result was an immediate 15 percent improvement in speed with errors dropping 12 percent.
There are many use cases where businesses can improve efficiency: technicians can be connected to vital information about the equipment they are servicing; field workers can be given access to information on inspections; employees can be tracked in challenging environments. Industries such as logistics are predicted to see an increase in the use of wearables: in a 2018 study logistics association MHI predicted that within five years, 70 percent of warehousing and distribution facilities would adopt wearables.
Field service is another area that has seen an increase in wearable use, and a subsequent increase in productivity. Many field workers are geographically dispersed and regularly work in remote areas. Companies such as RealWear, who we’ve recently partnered with, have developed wearable technology that empowers field workers with immediate remote support and visualization of real-time IoT data of specific assets. With RealWear, field workers can access and view technical documents, collect data using voice commands and request virtual support - all while performing manual tasks. This leads to better decision-making and improved efficiency.
- Wearables present a new avenue for operational efficiency at industrial companies. (Image: EPStudio20/Shutterstock.com)
2. A Focus on Safety
The growth in wearable technology in the industrial space is in large part driven by the benefits it provides in terms of worker safety. Industrial work often takes place in harsh environments that can include high levels of noise, extreme temperatures, the typical dangers of construction sites, or the presence of heavy machinery. Wearable technology increases worker safety in 2 main ways: proactive injury prevention and improved situational awareness.
Proactive Injury Prevention
Smart wearable devices can collect, collate and display data to ensure workers remain safe. Wearables can now tell you which surfaces are too hot to touch, when machinery is malfunctioning, or even when conditional hazards, like spilled fluids, are present.
While a wearable device can warn the wearer about hazards in their near vicinity, it can crucially also track physiological data. The issue of prolonged manual labor (being in a hazardous area too long or not getting enough rest) is a highly preventable source of work injuries. Wearables can warn workers, and their management, when someone is physically overworking themselves and that they need to take a break before they become fatigued and make a mistake that can lead to an injury. In the longer term, wearables prevent injuries by monitoring workers’ workload over time.
Improved Situational Awareness
Wearable technology can ensure workers in warehouses, factories, or manufacturing plants are more aware of the environment around them. These locations are all very dynamic, meaning workers need to be aware of the changes in their surroundings. A wearable device can connect to a network within the workplace and relay information to the worker regarding hazards, moving machinery, or deteriorating conditions such as a rising temperature or low air quality.
Just as beneficial are safety features such as rapid emergency evacuation (which locates plant employees and directs them to assembly points via geo-location) and man-down assistance (which detects that an employee is injured and notifies an emergency response team if necessary).
3. Reducing Errors
Wearable technology can play an important role in reducing errors in the workplace. Firstly, digitization, automation and integration of manual processes (such as what JourneyApps enables) removes the need for manual data entry and re-entry. Removing human error early on in the process avoids inefficiencies down the line. Wearables such as head-mounted tablets (HMTs) can also be used to guide a worker through a workflow, ensuring thoroughness in execution of work processes.
Taking it a step further, a remote expert can help a worker complete a task through a live video/voice feed. The worker in the field and a colleague, possibly thousands of miles away, can work together on a task - drastically reducing errors as well as costs such as travel and extended downtime.
4. Remote On-the-Job Training
- Wearables provide new ways to provide on-the-job training and guided work instructions to industrial workers. (Image: Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock.com)
In line with the HMT remote expert use case above, wearables facilitate hands-free training on the jobsite. For example, General Motors used Google’s Glass to allow new hires to learn their trade, on the go, on an active production line. This also leads to a hands-free experience, as workers are guided through issue resolution without them having to first pick up or position hardware in their workspace – they’re already wearing it.
Wearables also allow for the creation of immersive task simulations for training purposes. In this process, employees are placed in simulated environments that resemble what a day on the job would look like. Instead of just being told how to do something or watching a video, employees will be able to work through scenarios themselves.
Product knowledge training is also improved by wearable technology. Instead of looking at product brochures, employees can receive three-dimensional training on how various products work through the help of HMTs and assisted reality.
Wearable technology will continue to grow within the industrial sector as it has clearly demonstrated its benefits. Productivity is increased, safety is improved, errors are reduced and training is more meaningful when wearable technology is incorporated. As this space continues to grow, the use cases will increase, and the need for smart wearables will soar - industrial companies would be smart to not fall behind the curve.
JourneyApps is a rapid-code platform to build custom workflow apps for RealWear® HMT, mobile and desktop. Voice commands are simple to set up and manage, we provide offline support out of the box, and deploying apps happens with a single click. Comes with prebuilt ERP integrations. If you are interested, please contact us to schedule a demo. You can also visit our RealWear page to learn more and subscribe for notifications about new blog posts.