With improving the workforce experience now a priority, Andreas Koenig considers the role of wearable technologies, such as barcode scanners and glasses, in transforming the working environment and providing the real-time data that can unlock worker potential
Organisations in every market are considering the changing role of employees in response to a workplace that is increasingly data driven. The growing maturity of machine learning and artificial intelligence is increasingly influencing day-to-day activity in any number of roles. Just consider the social media giants such as Facebook now creating thousands of new jobs for individuals to identify hate speech, jobs that are becoming possible only as a result of the introduction of state-ofthe- art algorithms.
Similar thinking is required in every market to achieve a seamless and effective man/machine interaction, especially those areas such as warehousing that are already struggling to recruit and retain skills. According to a recent report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, only nine per cent of the industry’s existing workforce is under 25 years old. To fill the skills gap and meet increasingly challenging productivity and efficiency goals, companies need to find a way to make the industry more attractive.
Creating an enhanced working environment is key to attract and retain staff. However, better rest areas and improved terms and conditions are not enough. Companies need to find a way to improve day to day worker experience, minimising the physical overhead and reimaging jobs to unlock individual potential.
Opportunities abound to augment worker experience. While warehouse and logistics processes have been optimised in recent years there are still many aspects of daily worker roles that are less than optimal. Just consider the time wasted walking back to static work stations to input information and receive the next task. The physical challenges associated with juggling scanning devices while lifting items, especially at height. The frustration of locating the right item in a mix of apparently identical products.
Wearables such as gloves with detachable scanner are safer, with both hands free at all times, and easier to use. Leveraging ergonomic science, these devices minimise extraneous movement helping individuals to stay productive for longer and avoiding fatigue induced error.
Critically, wearable devices enable a decentralised data model, where workers are empowered with real-time information. With adjustable feedback options, such as acoustic signals, vibration and LEDs on the back of the hand, a worker receives immediate confirmation of correct product selection. This feedback not only minimises delays and errors, improving productivity, but also avoids worker frustration. Wearable devices can also include display screens or be connected to smartwatches or wearable terminals to provide individuals with additional information, such as the next pick location. There is no longer any need for tiring and unnecessary activity – every step, every arm movement is directly related to undertaking the task at hand.
Man and machine
The provision of real-time information via an ecosystem of wearable devices is changing the worker experience. Day-today activity is safer and more productive; but workers are also more empowered by real-time information to make decisions and leverage that essential human intelligence to recognise and respond to the situation. The result is not only better human to human collaboration but also human to machine – and a workforce that is fulfilling its potential.
As the warehouse environment changes and companies look to automate simple, repetitive tasks, the role of the human workforce will evolve. With an array of wearable devices augmenting not only the productivity but also the experience of the human workforce, organisations can create an environment that is both safer and more appealing to the next generation.
Andreas Koenig is CEO of ProGlove. ProGlove develops industrial wearables. The smart solutions of the German-headquartered company are used by more than 500 renowned organisations in manufacturing, production, logistics and retail. ProGlove was founded in December 2014 after winning the Intel ‘Make it Wearable’ Challenge in Silicon Valley.