Enterprise Wearables: The Big Picture

Written BY

Emily Friedman

October 26, 2016

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

Wearables are definitely part of a larger picture but as we progress towards a true IoT, there are some obvious, even unassuming, enterprise wearable applications today.

At EWTS 2016, Brian Ballard of APX Labs brought up using wearables to replace simple paper processes–this is one of the greatest opportunities offered by the technology today. It may surprise you to learn that many industries and major enterprises are still very paper-driven, relying upon paper work instructions, paper checklists, and the filling out of paperwork to drive operations. Brian talked about identifying and “disrupting ineffective processes that exist today,” giving pharma and aerospace as two examples of industries that are just now replacing current paper processes and basic electronic processes in secure areas. This is a momentous first step that companies are making today – replacing paper in the workplace with wearable tech – and the savings are “astronomical.”

According to Vincent Higgins of Optech4D, Oil and Gas is another industry surprisingly driven by paper work instructions. And according to AGCO’s Peggy Gulick and Dr. Jorg Schulte of BMW, manufacturing similarly relies upon rather primitive paper and PC methods for assembling, inspecting and recording:

AGCO’s journey from paper to wearable: Peggy’s team has been testing smart glasses as a tool for improving the inefficient, paperwork-heavy process of quality inspection. They are comparing the “old” method, in which findings are recorded and defects communicated via printed forms and spreadsheets; with the wearable one, in which the worker uses hands-free smart glasses to inspect and document his findings, electronic workflows are used to assign tasks for defect correction, and there’s no need to duplicate data recording. It’s no surprise that the latter shaves a “monumental” 30 minutes off the process.

In addition to paper, proximity can also slow down a process: Rather than have workers move between the assembly line and PCs located 3 meters away, AGCO is testing smart glasses to display work instructions right where they’re needed. Similarly, BMW is looking to smart glass technology to eliminate the inefficiency of accessing checklists and recording feedback on stationary PCs away from the actual point of vehicle inspection. Wearable tech can also minimize the errors that typically result from a lack of standardized work instructions. For example, the BMW plant produces custom vehicles, so inspection information and checklists vary from car to car. Smart glasses are a superior tool for task-, machine- or part-based instructions.

“It’s about creating a coordinated experience–putting a computer on a human being to augment them, assist their workflow, free their hands up, and enable simultaneous ‘See and Do'” Tom Bianculli, Zebra Technologies

In identifying areas in your operations where wearable tech might create improvements, look for those “uncoordinated” experiences or processes. In the AGCO and BMW examples above, the use of paper and PCs in quality inspection disrupted workflow, even displaced it. Additionally, words on paper and PC pull-down menus were not up to the task in those cases. “A picture is worth a thousands words,” especially in QA, where photographs – taken hands-free with a pair of smart glasses – are more accurate, instantaneous and thus ideal for detailed documentation than descriptions written down after a defect is spotted.

Paper, laptops and tablets can also be a safety hazard: Taylor Cupp and Michal Wojtak of Mortenson Construction revealed that in their industry paper documents have been used on the job site “for ages.” In recent years, Mortenson has moved towards electronic docs on iPads, but this still requires users to look down while navigating a site. Wearable tech provides the same info in a heads-up manner, allowing workers to remain aware of their surroundings.

Besides inefficient processes, “visibility gaps” in your operations might present another opportunity to apply wearables:

Tom Bianculli: “In thinking about enterprise use cases, where in your customers’ environments can they close visibility gaps to be able to get a jump in productivity? Where do they have a blind spot in their operations?”

Tom gave an example from the logistics industry: Imagine a transportation or dock environment. Using 3D sensors could enable you to determine how well a process is being performed by tracking objects and workers. Data linked to workers’ efficiency and where items are located or at what stage products are in transport could be analyzed and then mobilized, sent to managers’ dashboards on the floor and to workers (via smart glasses) to tell them what to do next. It’s the making of a coordinated, smarter experience in which data, people and devices are in sync; it’s IoT.

So identify those gaps in information that hurt productivity or safety in your workplace: Where could workers benefit from more insight or even foresight on the job? Where are those holes where providing workers with the right – or better – data might improve a task or process?

*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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