- A review of wearable warehouse technologies gave the highest marks to generic glove-mounted scanners thanks to their lower cost and training requirements, according to a 2018 paper published by researchers at Politehnica University of Timisoara.
- The review of eyeglass, wristband and glove-mounted scanners considered cost, ergonomic efficiency and training efforts, scoring each variable on a one to five scale before adding the results together for a total score for each devices. Generic equipment, defined as "self-developed" technology, tended to have higher scores as a result of lower prices. But the paper said companies would probably see longer-term benefits from externally developed proprietary technology, which scored higher on ergonomics and training.
- The proprietary technology tended to have software capabilities that reduced the need for manual data entry compared to the generic versions, increasing their ergonomics score but also the amount of training needed, the paper found. "This coupled with the higher investment costs leads to the generic equipment overtaking the proprietary one in each of the 3 equipment types," it concluded.
The use of wearable mobile computers is expected to grow in the coming years with 93% of respondents in a Zebra Technologies survey saying they expect to use it by 2028, compared to 44% who said they currently use it.
Gartner said wearable technology might be slow to take off among consumers, but industry is already adopting these technologies. Managers using wearables in their operations say it helps employees do their jobs more quickly and with fewer errors.
DHL, for example, recently decided to expand the use of smart glasses in its warehouses for pickers.
"The possibility of object recognition is also particularly promising for us in industrial applications," Markus Voss, the COO and CIO of DHL Supply Chain, said in a press release last year. "With the corresponding software, it is no longer just possible to read out barcodes, locate products and display the corresponding storage compartment; in future, also complex objects can be identified with the smart glasses. We expect this to lead to further productivity increases from which our employees and our customers will benefit equally."
The adoption of wearables outside of the supply chain is still pretty limited. A 2018 survey by Forrester found only 5% of respondents said they used wearables weekly for work. These technologies do have some real promise when it comes to safety, Forrester suggests.
"By intervening in real time, wearables offer execution support, driving the decision to pull workers from their shifts when fatigue renders them vulnerable to safety issues," Forrester said.
But picking the right wearable is important and the 2018 paper by Politehnica University of Timisoara researchers isn't the first to point this out. A 2017 paper by University of Cambridge researchers on the use of augmented reality in logistics concluded that the benefits "depend significantly on the hardware and results can vary a lot between devices with different specifications."
The Cambridge paper said wearables can reduce error rates by limiting employee decision making and through its ability to automatically recognize the right product. This can, in turn, increase worker speeds by reducing the likelihood of redoing work.
"Solution providers and researchers need to keep working closely to the end-user to identify suitable cases augmented reality could be implemented first in order to show real benefits over cheaper alternatives," the Cambridge researchers wrote.
Companies are always looking for ways to increase efficiency in their warehouse operations whether it's with robotics or another technology. Wearables could be another tool to help them make that happen. But the workers who have to keep pace in efficient, faster operations could also benefit thanks to safety improvements, which is much needed in an industry where picking up heavy objects and working around heavy machinery leads to high rates of injury.
This story was first published in our weekly newsletter, Supply Chain Dive: Operations. Sign up here.