Google Glass may have been a bust, but connected eyewear and other wearables are proving essential in helping to make supply chains and warehousing operations more productive and safer.
Supply chain management applications will contribute to wearables’ skyrocketing growth, as the market is set to surge from 2.3 million units in 2015 to 66.4 million units by 2021, according to analyst firm Tractica. The analyst firm forecasts a cumulative total of 171.9 million wearables will be shipped for use in enterprise and industrial applications during that period. These numbers represent a significant upgrade of Tractica’s previous forecasts since last year when enterprise- and industrial-grade wearables began shipping in volumes.
“In the past year, the enterprise and industrial wearables market has moved into an implementation phase, with the focus shifting from public announcements to the hard work that needs to be done behind the scenes to get wearables rolled out at commercial scale,” Aditya Kaul, a research director for Tractica, said.
The pay off
The use of wearables in warehouses, for example, can save immense amounts of time and human effort. By wearing smart glasses and headsets that offer voice-activated commands, a worker in California, for example, could merely scan an item in a warehouse for shipping to a destination across the globe by making eye contact with it. Information about the package then appears in a head-up display before the worker gives a voice command for the parcel to be shipped. Information about where the worker should be next and when they should be there appears on the head-up display. Other information the worker can easily access with the headset includes the time of the next break, the location of different shipments, and alerts about inventory levels.
Meanwhile, the order status is communicated to a tracking system as a customer monitors the shipment in real time. Information about the electronic components inside the device being shipped is uploaded to a database accessible by suppliers in Asia and Europe.
In this scenario, the use of a headset and smart eyeglasses that weigh just a few ounces can eliminate the need for the worker to use a heavier scanner they would otherwise have to carry around with them throughout their shift. The need to manually input data into a terminal where there might also be a line of workers waiting to do the same process is also eliminated in this scenario.
The efficiency gains in this way translate into fewer stress-related injuries, less physical human effort, and cost savings.
“We have been tracking pilots and commercial deployments of these solutions across logistics and warehousing facilities since 2014, and in many of the cases, we see efficiency gains of up to 25% and near 100% picking accuracy,” Kaul said.
UPS, one of the world’s largest delivery companies and a supply chain management services provider, has started equipping many of its workers with wearables. The wearable devices UPS has begun to use communicate information in real time about deliveries, repair history and instructions for machines and devices, and other data. These devices are bundled with beacons and sensors and are expected to play a key role in future supply chain operations.
While technology challenges remain before wearables become fully integrated with UPS’ operations, such as ensuring all the wearable devices remain fully compatible and connected to the company’s networks, UPS says the technology holds much promise.
DHL, as well as UPS, is using wearables such as smart glasses and voice-controlled headsets to replace handheld scanners and paper lists, Kaul said.
“Wearables are being used by warehouse facility workers to locate or scan items in a hands-free operation, allowing for speedup and optimization of picking processes,” Kaul said.