Is Wearable Tech the Future of Your Supply Chain?

When Google Glass was first released, in 2013, the reviews were less than desirable. Consumers generally rejected the idea. In NYC, some restaurants even banned the device because of secret video recording potential. Since then, wearable technology has seen much technological advancement.

Although wearable technology hasn’t quite taken off yet, it’s starting to get its footing. Fitness trackers are currently the most popular type of wearable technology on the market. Smartwatches and fitness bands account for 44% of the wearable market. Even footwear and apparel companies are starting to get into the wearable technology field. The wearable market itself had grown in 2015, having 232 million units being sold. Gartner, predicts that this number will grow by 39% in 2016.

You may not want a pair of smart glasses yourself, but to keep up with the competition, your workers might need them. The ability to use your mobile device to scan a barcode is convenient, but having the barcode scan when you look at it gives your workers two free hands. The first attempt at Google Glass already has the ability to scan barcodes, but the second version will be able to leverage more useful technologies. We will explore these technologies below.

Why will these devices provide value to your warehouse? Simply, they support Augmented Reality (AR). You may already be familiar with Virtual Reality, which replaces the real world with a simulated one. Similarly, AR is a view of a physical environment where elements are augmented by a computer-generated input. Inputs such as, sound, video, graphics or GPS data. The smart glasses analyze the image(s), pull data that corresponds to the frame, and displays it back to the user. For those still confused, picture Robocop or Iron Man. Wearable technology on its own will not provide significant changes to the workplace. Its success is predicated on how well it connects and presents other technologies.
Some may see wearables as a flashy toy, but it does add value to workforces for a number of reasons. It increases the safety of warehouses, offers interactive training at machines, visualization of process steps of repairing machinery, and warnings while entering danger areas in factories. For example, when workers are using smart glasses they get notified of nearby forklifts or other hazardous equipment. Having this awareness would help to avoid collisions.

Wearables and mobile devices are perquisites to leverage other emerging technologies in the workplace. One example is Indoor Positioning Systems where a mobile device, wearable technology or both can be used. Keeping on the topic of safety, if a worker is injured on the job they have the ability to send a distress signal from their smart device. Supervisors can then quickly locate the injured worker. Indoor positioning systems also increase productivity.  Once pick lists are loaded into smart devices, the devices then direct the workers to the area of the warehouse the stock resides. This reduces errors and the time it takes for new workers to get familiar with the warehouse. SAP Systems & Vuzix do a great job of demonstrating this feature with this video.

When workers aren’t tethered to computers, either in the form of a handheld device or a workstation, productivity can be improved. Access to information is improving and will continue to do so. The introduction of handheld devices for scanning items made warehouses more efficient by collecting the data in real time into a Warehouse Management System. Smart glasses hope to continue the trend. As the technology grows, the user has to manually collect data less and less. The electronic data trail follows a person's movements to provide more real-time data and less room for error. TNT Innight, located in Belgium, is one of the first companies to install such a system in their warehouse. After a six-month testing period, they have reported a 30% increase in productivity.

As technology advances, it will create more and more efficiencies in the workplace. Items such as Smart glasses may not be the standard right now. But there was a time when even computers were obscure. Now you’d be hard-pressed to find any business without as much as a laptop. By 2020 is it estimated that 50 billion devices will access to the Internet and your glasses could be one of them. Wearable tech could revolutionize your warehouse. The benefits of the adding wearables to your supply chain will become clearer as the technology advances.