Have you been wearing your smartwatch or fitness tracker that you got for Christmas as often as you thought you would? If you work in manufacturing, you may soon be wearing them on the factory floor. Smartglasses and wearables are taking off as manufacturers realize not only that they are replacing the smart pad in the workforce’s’ hands, but they’re adding many other features that make them a necessity to gain a business advantage. While I use the term “smartglasses” universally, the wearable could be an attachment to traditional safety glasses rather than a separate unit or be attached to another body part. Here are five ways having a computer to remotely interact with both the wearer and others will change manufacturing forever.
One – Training:
Instead of having a trainer stand next to the trainee on the shop floor and go teach the worker how to run a machine or use a new tool, the trainer can be in another room, even remotely, and observe and coach by watching the camera in the smartglasses. The trainer can give real-time feedback to the trainee while also viewing any additional information the tool provides. He can also send information to the smartglasses in the form of drawings, videos, photos or any other information that he wants the worker to see. By adding a finger-pointing tool that works with the glasses, every motion of the worker can be recorded in real-time, in order so that it can be reviewed and improved later.
Two – Safety:
Using the Internet of Things (IoT) and linking the glasses with the machine being worked on, sensors in the factory, and all of the other workers’ glasses on the floor, will allow new multiple layers of safety on the shop floor. Sensors can pause a machine if they sense the worker is about to make an error that will damage a workpiece or the machine itself. Sensors can alert workers to unsafe material handling, an unintended danger from another worker, and many other daily interactions that pose a safety issue. For example, the sensor worn by a worker crossing a hallway can send a signal to the cloud that automatically slows the forklift being operated by the worker around a blind corner from the intersection. The forklift operator also sees the sensor warning in his glasses. Think of every application where a sensor can be used, rather than just through traditional human observation, and one can quickly see the endless possibilities of this technology.
Three – Compliance:
The massive amounts of data that will be collected from the various sensors and glasses can quickly be filtered in real-time and prepared in a continuously updated report for regulatory agencies. Managers can also sort through the material looking for potential patterns that need to be addressed or equipment that may need updating. Having the data and the analysis constantly available means shorter inspection time, less down time, and the ability to more fully plan for scheduled versus emergency repairs.
Data recorded from both the machine and the wearable can be analyzed in real-time and combined, then run through data analytical software. Data can be graphed by hour, shift, day, week, month, etc. to drill down and identify process improvements. Data analysis positions are currently the fastest growing segment of ALL workforces, not just manufacturing. Two and four-year colleges are currently expanding their curriculum to include certificate classes, both for undergraduate and graduate students on data analysis. Classes specific to manufacturing are sure to follow.
Five – Workforce Review:
Imagine you had a complete, record of everything your workforce did on the shop floor with data analysis weighing the worker against your other workers with similar job time and training. Now add data from the averages in your manufacturing field from around the country, and you have a snapshot that can show performance or lack thereof with a targeted improvement plan. After one year you can take the data and create performance goals around the averages, work experience and training for your workforce. All of this helps you run a smoother, more effective operation.
In just two years, it appears wearables are already making an impact in manufacturing. As they become more prevalent on shop floors and the natural innovation of any new product takes hold, it will not be long before they are as common as the safety glasses they are attached to.