Imagine a factory or warehouse where employees can work freely, no longer constrained by computer workstations or scanners that can act as chokepoints on a shop floor. With the aid of multiple, hands-free devices, workers would simply follow real-time updates and instructions that appear in their line of sight, allowing them to work smarter and faster.
Picture wearables and fixed sensors communicating with each other and enterprise systems, helping employees know exactly where they need to be and what to do next at precisely the right time. Employees and wearables work in unison, reducing error rates and keeping everyone safer and more productive.
Welcome to the not-so-distant future of work as we’ll know it.
This is the Internet of Things (IoT) in action, laying the foundation for the business practices of tomorrow. By 2020, an estimated 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet, a ten-fold increase from the number of such gadgets in use today.
Wearable technology fills a critical need in the logistics industry. As a business tool, wearable computers can improve worker efficiency, enhance connectivity and make overall communication more seamless.
All of this plays an important role in speeding up global commerce, which remains a goal for retailers and logistics companies. Whether sorting and moving packages or repairing critical machinery, warehouse and logistics workers need information readily available to them in real time. These deskless workers don’t have the luxury of sitting in front of a computer all day. They are always on the move and often need both hands to do their jobs, making it cumbersome to hold a tablet or a handheld scanner.
Digital eyewear could help workers update the status of a package without distracting from other tasks. Simply looking at a parcel could capture and display relevant information while providing instant updates to others involved in getting packages to the doorstep. Mechanics could see repair history and detailed instructions while keeping both hands active.
Wearable devices aren’t new to the warehouse. For years, ring scanners have bolstered output by relieving workers of having to pick up and put down a scanner throughout the day. But new tools like digital eyewear and data gloves, combined with beacons and sensors, represent the next step in the evolution of how computing devices are deployed to improve supply chains.
Before the potential of the technology is fully recognized, however, we must get past a few obstacles, such as the durability and battery life of wearables. With the technology evolving so rapidly, compatibility standards are also needed to ensure the assortment of gadgets can seamlessly communicate with one another.
The more we study the benefits of wearable technology, the clearer the promise becomes. While we don’t know exactly where wearable devices will lead us, we fully anticipate their heightened implementation in supply chain management and warehouses around the globe.
Rimas Kapeskas is managing director of the UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund.