Industrial wearables have been picking up serious steam in the manufacturing community, and with good reason. The ever-evolving innovations behind industrial wearables have brought new and interesting technologies that continue to pique the interest of modern manufacturers. These innovations increase safety and awareness, aid workers in completing complex and demanding tasks, and connect users to their work and with each other.
To show how wearables are becoming more relevant by the day, a survey conducted by Zebra Technologies Corp. found that half of manufacturers worldwide plan to incorporate wearable technology by the year 2022. Over half of manufacturers currently using wearable technology state they plan to expand their utilization.
The industrial wearables industry is also projected to grow from 1.1 billion dollars in 2019 to 8.6 billion dollars by the year 2024. That is an astounding growth projection that carries a lot of weight.
Wearables have definitely caught the eye of many manufacturers. Companies can invest in new technology that supports and protects their workers while giving them the edge over their competitors.
We are still in the early phases of these innovations and by no means will all industrial wearables be beneficial to every manufacturing company; this is undoubtedly based on individual company process needs. As industrial wearable technology continues to improve with each passing day, we can also expect prices to continue to drop as well.
In the meantime, incredible industrial wearables are already helping manufacturers empower their front-line workers, keep them safe, and increase productivity.
Why Are Industrial Wearables Important Now?
Due to increased automation, simple tasks are increasingly being taken over by automated machines. But as we explored in The Connected Worker Platform and the New Connected Economy, due to the explosion of e-commerce there is an increasing demand for mixed-model assembly in the form of unique and custom products.
This means that as automated machines take over simpler mass-production assemblies, manual tasks for low-volume and high-mix productions are getting more and more complex. This trend is requiring human involvement in areas that large production lines cannot fulfill.
Next, we need to ask ourselves: how do we then increase efficiency and productivity on a human level? And how can we implement the consistent standards that we’ve applied to mass production assembly lines while also keeping our workers safe?
Answer: By integrating our workers with their technology and company process.
Here at VKS, we specialize in visual work instruction software that enables workers and companies to solidify their processes, track and analyze manufacturing data in real-time, and connect with their industry and supply chain.
With visual work instructions, companies can quickly distribute tribal knowledge across their whole workforce, maintain consistent quality standards, and truly integrate safety into their procedures.
After incorporating visual work instructions into your manufacturing workflow and company process, the next step is to provide the worker with tools that will further enable them to efficiently and safely complete their tasks.
This can be done in part by finding industrial wearables that will protect your workers and build your company process.
3 Industrial Wearables for Safety
An incredible portion of industrial wearable innovations is centered around safety and worker protection. Industrial wearables are making it easier for companies to look out for their employees and significantly reduce lost time.
From aiding workers in social distancing measures, preventing struck-by accidents, and reducing back injury, here are some workplace wearable safety devices that are set to change the modern industrial work environment.
Smart PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
In a manufacturing facility or warehouse, there are a lot of moving parts. From movable fixtures, equipment, mobile forklifts, and other vehicles, the shop floor can be a hazardous environment. Being constantly aware of all the moving parts of a facility or warehouse can be a challenge and proper safety awareness practices are essential.
But what if industrial wearable technology could be integrated or woven into an employees PPE? This technology would assist employees and alert them of the potential dangers to themselves and others while also gathering useful data to improve process safety.
One such company has created a helmet with this in mind. The Guardhat is essentially an IoT helmet that tracks the location of employees and monitors their work environment, pulse, and body temperature. If a forklift operator is getting too close to a worker that they perhaps do not see, the helmet can be configured to send an alert to both parties to warn them of the potential danger.
This can also be used to assist workers that suffer a slip, trip, or fall by letting other employees know the hurt worker’s location. This is an incredibly useful innovation in safety as it helps prevent struck-by accidents and allow faster emergency responses when needed.
E-textiles are also a fast-evolving technology designed to incorporate IoT technology into normal PPE clothing. Companies such as Loomia and Google’s Jacquard are producing sleek e-textile fabrics and wearable tags that can be woven into safety vests, shirts, and uniforms. This technology can trace employee movement and give companies real-time data that improves safety for their employees.
With this new technology, the potential is endless, from providing proximity alerts, employee tracking, hazard notifications, safety analytics, and more yet to be seen.
The Social Distancer
As the world learns and evolves with modern social distancing measures, it is important that we train ourselves on the best practices of social interactions. This is especially true and equally difficult in the workplace setting as often our minds are focused on other pressing matters.
Workers need to be able to freely move around in their workplaces but also need to know how close is too close. The six foot guideline is not always easily ascertained without tape measure or a 6 foot stick if you have one.
The Social Distancer solves this worry by alerting users if they are within 6 feet of another individual. Employees can then move around their workplace with confidence and adjust their positioning with the helpful alerts of this little device.
This industrial wearable safety device will create awareness and re-train employees to socially distance themselves as we adapt to new social norms.
At first glance, you might think that this wearable technology looks like it might have come out of a comic book. And it kind of did!.
Employees who frequently perform physically strenuous tasks can wear a real-life exosuit and gain additional mechanical strength for their back. The Herowear Apex is a sleek exosuit built to strengthen workers’ spines and back muscles and prevent back injuries as they lift heavy objects in the workplace.
Due in part to its band based mechanism, the suit is built for all sizes of men and women and can be worn underneath regular clothing. When lifting a heavy object, the elastic bands can reduce up to 50lbs of weight that would normally be placed solely on the employee’s back muscles.
This new safety device has the potential to save many employees from chronic back injuries, spinal stress, and save companies the cost of lost time due to repetitive stress and workplace accidents.
3 Industrial Wearables for Productivity and Efficiency
The other major benefit of using industrial wearables is that it increases process efficiency. Imagine a workplace that seamlessly integrates workers with their technology, where human intelligence can be combined with the precision of modern technology. Connected workers are the future of mixed-model assembly and industrial wearables play a significant role in this venture.
Much of this technology is already being used by manufacturers and it will continue to grow, innovate, and improve as time goes on. From the ever evolving AR (augmented reality) Glasses industry, to Smartwatches and scanners that fit conveniently on your arm, the possibilities for human and technological innovation and communication seem boundless.
Augmented Reality (AR) Glasses
We’ll start with the big one, Augmented Reality Glasses. This industrial wearable has been making the biggest waves in recent years and has also had some of the biggest failures. After Google Glass did not pan out with mainstream consumer demand, Google and others shifted their focus onto a more suitable market: the manufacturing industry.
With AR glasses, employees can have hands free access to work information that is conveniently displayed in an employee's field of vision. Many AR glasses also can take pictures and videos while some can even facilitate live remote assistance between employees.
Despite holding a lot of potential in the field, the industrial wearable also poses a few drawbacks on safety. Concern has been expressed with regards to the idea of something obstructing the employee’s field of vision. This is a legitimate concern and the system is not yet fool-proof. Many AR glasses do have a swing arm to move the projection away from view or can be easily turned off when not needed.
Although Google is the first AR Glasses company that comes to most minds, there are plenty of companies, such as Microsoft HoloLens and Moverio Assist, that have AR glasses for the manufacturing market. This is good news as it indicates that there is significant demand and competition. It also means that this technology will progress and continue to improve.
While the statement, “I know this supply chain like the back of my hand,” may sound corny, it can be used quite literally with hands-free scanners. From scanning parts for assembly work, picking items in a warehouse, or moving and sorting items, these hands-free scanners are already being used to make the job faster and more reliable.
One such scanner, the ProGlove reportedly saves employees up to 4-6 seconds per scan and reduces errors by 33%. This lightweight and easy to use scanner is attached to the back of one’s hand and is activated by a trigger sensor near the thumb.
With glove scanners, employees no longer need to lug around the conventional heavy pistol scanner. To put this in perspective, the ProGlove weighs only 40 grams while pistol scanners can often weigh over a pound. This significant drop in weight is staggering, especially when considered with a full day of lifting scanners up to barcodes.
By providing a less cumbersome, faster, and hands-free option, employees can use both hands while moving items, concentrate on the specifics of their tasks, and reduce the possibility of human error.
Unlike AR glasses, smartwatches have performed better in the mainstream consumer market. Statista.com states that in 2019, an estimated 20.1 million Smartwatches were sold in the US alone. There is significant demand for smartwatches and there is definitely significant supply as many companies are continuously developing their versions for the consumer and industrial markets.
This technology can connect workers with their environment and people through a small and portable platform. Smartwatches integrate this connection to your wrist, making it easy to access information on the go and quickly review pertinent work messages and alerts.
Smartwatches can also enhance connection between workers and machines on the shop floor. In the case of equipment failure, the IoT connected machine can then immediately inform the appropriate personnel on their smartwatch.
The one glaring limitation of a Smartwatch is its small screen as it cannot display complex readouts or work instructions. This undoubtedly affects its versatility out in the field. Smartwatches best serve as a supplement to your existing work instruction software to relay messages and alerts.
Having this information constantly out in the open, as opposed to exclusively on a device in your pocket, makes information sharing easier, faster, and more convenient.
As we’ve explored with smart PPE, the industrial smartwatch can also be used to alert the wearer of potential dangers, adding safety to its list of useful features.
Industrial Wearables and VKS
In this new era of industry 4.0, manufacturers are given the opportunity to empower their workers with comprehensive software and new technological innovations. Paired with visual work instructions, providing tools and equipment that further integrate safety and efficiency are an unstoppable force.
This innovative and ever-evolving technology is having a large impact on the manufacturing world and will continue to do so for some time.