International Workers’ Day goes back to the year 1886. In the USA, a strike that lasted several days began on 1 May with the aim of enforcing the eight-hour day, which is still in force in most companies today. But work is changing. Digitalisation is often equated with robotics and artificial intelligence, and many employees are increasingly concerned that in the future they will no longer play a role in production processes. But humans will continue to play an important role in industry. The aim is to plan the production environment in such a way that employees and machines can integrate seamlessly into processes, work together and communicate with each other. For this to succeed, people must be equipped accordingly with the right tools.
Industry 4.0 has long ceased to be just a dream of the future. It has become firmly integrated into production facilities in recent years. Pioneers in this segment include the automotive industry and aviation – and trade followed their example. The aim of Industry 4.0 is to use networking and automation to make production more efficient and above all more flexible. The systems are based upon data being generated and evaluated in order to derive recommendations for action on this basis, which are essential for increasing efficiency, redistributing resources and occupational safety. Robots and machines can already generate this data or be upgraded with appropriate applications. This capability is also available for humans in the form of industrial wearables, such as smart glasses, portable audio systems or even smart barcode scanners via the use of smart gloves.
Industrial wearables often pursue one goal: the employee should have his hands free. But they also allow for decentralised data and information approaches to be followed. This is particularly important in the interaction between man, machine and automated processes. Currently, data is often still entered and transmitted via stationary terminals. This is prone to errors, interrupts the process and costs time. In addition, the data is not recorded in real time, which can lead to recommendations for action and protective mechanisms taking effect too late or possibly not at all.
In order to upgrade production and logistics to Industry 4.0 standards, it is essential that employees understand the benefits of wearables and integrate them into their everyday work. One of the most important criteria for the acceptance of smart systems is ergonomics. Wearables should offer tangible added value. For example, in terms of weight or freedom of movement. Ideally, they do not distract the employee’s attention during work processes but integrate themselves almost naturally. In industrial environments, wearables should have the appropriate robustness to ensure long service life. In addition, users should make sure that the systems are easy to install and commission. A simple solution is offered by systems that follow a plug-and-play approach.
Smart Glasses: Additional information and recognition of objects
Data glasses can be used in production and logistics in many different ways. Smart Glasses are used to support and guide employees with information via the glasses and to check the quality. This includes the storage location of the parts, quantity or price information. For example, it is possible for the glasses to detect which parts are missing or in short supply and automatically trigger the ordering process. Augmented Reality (AR) provides the employee with computer-generated additional information or virtual objects. In this way, fitters can have the next work step displayed directly in their field of vision or call up additional information to provide assistance.
Audio systems: Interactive headsets for clear work instructions and communication
Another useful wearable feature is interactive ‘pick by voice’ audio systems, which are mainly used in picking. Using a headset, the employee receives clear work instructions and can answer or request additional information via the integrated microphone. In this way several orders can be processed in just one operation. However, operational capability should be tested in advance. Not all audio systems are suitable for high pick density, as they scatter too much information and thus require additional concentration from the employee during the execution of the task.
Smart barcode scanners: Ergonomic working and additional information at hand
In numerous industries, data acquisition via barcodes is widely used. It is fast, secure and any amount of information can be stored in the barcode. Stationary barcode scanners offer too little flexibility. Conventional pistol scanners often cause ergonomic problems in addition to unnecessary gripping times, they break down quickly or are inadvertently sent in a package. Barcode scanners that are integrated directly into the work glove come with distinct advantages: the device fits naturally into human movements and workflows and, with a weight of 40 grams, often weighs only a fifth of what ordinary scanners weigh. This weight reduction can quickly lead to savings of up to 1.5 tons per day and can be particularly effective for employees in high-frequency scanning areas. Wearable barcode scanners that also feature a display provide additional information such as storage location, notification of deliveries or security warnings.
Production 2025: a combination of wearables
In the logistics and supply chain environment, smart gloves, glasses and audio systems are increasingly becoming a part of the standard repertoire. But in many cases, the networking of systems and the necessary flexibility can still be expanded. Some manufacturers are therefore deliberately entering into cooperative ventures in order to coordinate wearables and their data flows and to store and process the information collected in a central system. The goal over the next five years will be to create a complete network between humans and digitalised production by intelligently combining different wearables in order to ensure efficient process flows with maximum occupational safety.