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Enterprise Wearables: Easy IoT?

Written BY

Emily Friedman

November 7, 2016

Wearables are part of a much larger picture, but the applications don’t have to be complicated

Participants from June’s EWTS 2016 are looking beyond just wearables, towards an entire ecosystem of connected devices that will comprise the (smart) workplace of the future. But this ecosystem of devices, including wearables and other sensors and mobile devices – and otherwise known as the Internet of Things – doesn’t have to be so complex. It can be as simple as a sensor on a person or piece of equipment. As several speakers emphasized, just knowing where workers, machines and vehicles are located can save your organization time and money and manpower–a simple sensor can save millions of dollars.

John Simmins of EPRI described wearable technology as one side of a six-sided coin, which is a great metaphor for IoT. We’re not talking about isolated “things” but rather multiple devices that need to interact and work as a system to provide context to the end user. Brian Laughlin of Boeing put it quite elegantly, describing IoT as “putting sensors out into the environment, into the real world, and enabling disparate but connected things to coalesce in time and space for an event to occur.” An event like the building of an aircraft…

“It’s the interaction amongst things. That’s where the real power is…IoT offers us context, the ability to have sensors out in the environment to really understand what’s going on…linking current processes as they’re being carried out in real time to an inventory control system so that the right parts coalesce in the right space at the right time for a product to be built in an optimized time frame. Having all these things talk to one another, enabling us to create ‘velocity’ in our systems, to have increased throughput, decreased cost, and better timeliness. Big data offers us the ability to filter through the noise and pinpoint what needs immediate attention.”

It all sounds a bit technological and romantic, but enterprise end users spoke about putting Brian’s vision into real practice:

Peggy Gulick, AGCO: “Having different technologies talk to one another is important…We want our tablets to talk to our phones, [Google] Glass, PCs. Everything has to communicate or else it’s not a viable solution, otherwise Glass is totally niche and stores all its information by itself. So we have Glass talking to our QMS tool. Everything is ‘trendable’ information, sending signals to the right people when it’s appropriate.”

And it’s not just multiple devices but also multiple (emerging) technologies:

Peter Godino, Hershey: “Machine learning and IoT is going to be huge for Hershey. We’re going to fully automate our manufacturing line, give our lines a brain…So instead of megalines (we’re making 100,000 pounds of product in a single day), where it takes 1-2 hours for a human to react to something; we’re collecting data, using machine learning, cloud-based computing, and AI to make our lines smart, improve efficiencies, reduce downtime. and become more predictive in our behavior. Wearable technology and Augmented Reality will be the connection between humans and the machines.”

And while we may not be at the point of (fully) realizing these magnificent systems, we are starting to recognize the bigger picture and tie technologies together. At the moment, it’s mainly having electronic sensors collect machine or biometric data which is then analyzed (although that part can be tricky) and pushed to different devices; and also pushing information from legacy systems (QMS, CRM, etc.) to devices and people. That data might be pushed to workers via wearables to increase their situational awareness, or be used to anticipate issues before they cause expensive delays, or reveal inefficiencies in a business process that could be improved with wearable or other new technology.

Chris Croteau, Intel: “[Wearables] are going to be more of an endpoint for the Cloud…the ultimate endpoint for the cloud, reducing human error but not necessarily replacing the human on the line.” As we learn from a young age, it’s better when we work together; it’s also more productive when people and things work together.

*All quotes are transcribed from the sessions and presentations given at EWTS, June 16-17, 2016 in Atlanta, GA, and therefore may not be exact.

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