5 Ways Wearable Technology Can Change the Manufacturing Industry
Any technology that is always on, user-controlled, accessible and portable that is attached to the user’s physical space can be broadly considered as wearable technology. Its concept has been around since the advent of the “Calculator Watch” in the 1970s. Today, this definition would apply to a device which is akin to a computer in terms of interaction and capabilities. Thanks to the exponential explosion in computing speeds, we are amidst a revolution in the development of miniature, yet powerful devices that can sense, interpret and inform us about our environment. In this article, we look at how wearable technology can be used to improve outcomes in the manufacturing sector.
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Wearable Technology in Manufacturing
As manufacturing workflows become more sophisticated, the need for improved human-machine interaction to achieve production goals has become prominent. Wearable technology has been marketed as consumer devices since the advent of the portable cassette player allowed one to carry music while being out and about. However, the core nature and features of wearable devices make them an attractive proposition to increase manufacturing efficiency, quality and potentially lower costs. Here are 5 ways that wearable devices can change manufacturing:
1. Site and Field Work
This is a fairly broad area for the application of wearable devices. Whether on the factory floor or on site, personnel are required to use information to make assessments and take decisions. With the advent of smart glasses and heads-up-displays (HUD), it becomes possible to provide information generated by sensors and other Internet-Of-Things (IoT) devices to the concerned personnel. This opens up an array of possibilities such as – on-site measurement of manufacturing defects and comparison with metrics, the display of process/system parameters without being physically present in the control room, production control at an individual level to help run/stop machines, virtual reference of manuals to help adhere to procedures, uploading of measurements/site data to the cloud for processing and more.
This technology would also help with the creation of site status reports which may be dictated and recorded on the cloud. Data from IoT devices and autonomous vehicles like warehouse robots or drones may be used to make assessments about hard to reach locations. These have the potential to radically change maintenance workflow in industrial plants.
2. Data Collection
Devices such as heart rate/activity monitors, body-mounted cameras, motion sensors and GPS help to gather data about personnel location, recording point of view photo/video, personnel traffic through the site and visual monitoring of inventory. This collected data also improves accountability and audit of implemented processes. It may also be used to aid decisions impacting personnel management and payroll processing.
Visual data such as live video or photos from plant sites could be sent to experts for their opinion. This data may also be tagged for future retrieval or to monitor the existence of inventory.
Data pertaining to location, walking speed, or motion maps may be incorporated into a feedback loop to improve the efficiency of procedures for worker tasks. Real-time data gathering would help identify the source of production bottlenecks and determine product quality. Collected data could prove invaluable for the application of machine learning in production processes.
Wearable devices such as augmented reality headsets or virtual reality headsets are promising tools for training workers. Whether the aim is to train new workers or experienced hands, these tools provide the ability to create realistic training sessions and record personnel performance. As manufacturing becomes increasingly automated, acclimatizing personnel to all production scenarios would improve efficiency.
Wearable devices that provide real-time information such as temperature, environment gas composition or radioactivity through the interface with IoT devices would help improve personnel safety in hazardous work sites. They can be used to audit compliance with established safety procedures and in post-accident investigations.
The monitoring of personnel location on site facilitates with situational awareness during scenarios like crane operations and vehicle movement is possible. The wearable device can be used to warn the user about potential collisions and other workplace hazards.
Real-time monitoring of heart rates and other body parameters like breathing rate may help determine personnel awareness during safety-critical tasks and would enable classification of personnel based on the ability to safely complete the intended task.
5. Security & Identity
Wearable devices can be used to verify the identity of personnel and to monitor movement within concerned areas. This could also be used to enforce access control. Process compliance and information transparency can be better managed to ensure that relevant personnel have the information they need to make decisions. This also improves clarity of responsibility and accountability.
Wearable technologies are on the cusp of making significant strides and their application in manufacturing is expected to open new avenues for efficiency and transparency. Productivity improvements from the use of wearable devices per worker would be cumulatively significant leading to better adherence to safety, process awareness, training, and security.
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