IoT and manufacturing: Wearables hit the shop floor

Manufacturers have already begun integrating IoT devices into shop floor workflows as part of Industry 4.0.

Constellations of connected devices make up the Internet of Things and these digital formations grow larger every day. The total number of machine-to-machine links is expected to increase from 4.9 billion in 2015 to 12.2 billion by 2020, according to research from Cisco. Such device-only connections will eventually account for an estimated 46 percent of all networking traffic.

Manufacturers are poised to play an important part in these developments, as most have already begun integrating IoT devices into shop floor workflows as part of Industry 4.0. Wearables in particular have seen wide deployment among firms. Many have discovered novel use cases for these web-enabled accessories. Consequently, analysts believe the manufacturing sector alone could legitimize wearables, transforming them from hyped consumer products into workplace essentials, software expert Louis Columbus wrote in an article for Forbes. Just how are firms using these tools?

The rise of smart glasses
Google Glass once represented the future of wearable technology. The device, released in 2013, floundered on the marketplace and was discontinued less than a year later. With the Google Glass division on pause, smaller technology firms have stepped into the void. However, this new IoT eyewear isn't made for the catwalk.

Zebra Technologies, located in Lincolnshire, Illinois, is one of dozens of firms producing smart glasses specifically designed for the shop floor, The Wall Street Journal reported. These devices have risen to prominence in recent years, as manufacturers search for ways to improve operational data flow and facilitate lean processes. The market for these devices is expected to top $8 billion by 2022, according to MarketsandMarkets.

"Style points don't get you very far in an industrial environment, but productivity does," Tom Bianculli, vice president of enterprise technology for Zebra, told The Journal.

"The total number of machine-to-machine links is expected to increase from 4.9 billion in 2015 to 12.2 billion by 2020."

Indeed, industry-leading smart glasses offer undeniable operational benefits. Users can view on-screen schematics as they navigate the shop floor or summon real-time production data without shuffling through print-outs or fumbling with a smartphone or tablet. Plus, stakeholders in the front office, on the floor and in the warehouse can view essential information via a shared platform, a capability that bolsters operational synergy and improves productivity.

Tracking worker safety
In addition to streamlining shop floor workflows, wearables also boost workplace safety, according to Boss Magazine. How? Managers can track employee movement and key health metrics with these devices, which allows them to pinpoint overworked or imperiled staff before they suffer injuries. Manufacturers using these trackers have already seen benefits. For instance, the Japanese information technology firm Fujitsu adopted wearable performance monitors last year and saw accident rates fall. 

Others are investing in smart helmets that include advanced communications systems, Financial Times reported. These allow home office staff to connect with shop floor and field technicians as they perform their duties. More advanced versions, such as those from the technology company Daqri, include 3-D mapping capabilities and other advanced tools that enable workers to better connect with their physical environments, Business Insider reported. This added awareness not only improves productivity but also bolsters safety.

While these wearable IoT technologies and others are still in nascent stages, they have the potential to push manufacturing forward. It's likely that more firms will experiment with these devices as 2017 unfolds. This, along with the continued maturation of Industry 4.0, could bring about an industry-wide shift toward lean, technology-driven workflows.    

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to RSS Feed