Wearable Devices Serve Engineers

Wearable Devices Serve Engineers

Sensors Insights by Jonathan Wilkins

According to Statista, there were 453 million connected wearable devices worldwide in 2017 — a figure that is predicted to increase to 593 million this year. Here, Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of Obsolete Equipment Specialist, EU Automation explains how wearables could transform the role of engineers and plant managers.

Smart watches are not the only wearable tech available to consumers. The sector has rapidly expanded and now includes radiation-blocking underwear, smart shoes and emotion-sensing bracelets. As well as weird and wonderful applications, wearable tech is becoming a staple technology for engineers, by offering safety and productivity benefits.

Smaller sensors and technology that improves battery life are benefitting consumers – like athletes – who can be seen covered in wearables to monitor performance. This, combined with increased connectivity, has enabled industrial wearable tech to take off.

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According to the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), over 7,600 people die every day from work related accidents or diseases ─ 2.78 million a year. Therefore, the organisation is developing ISO 45001, a framework to improve employee safety. Wearable technology could enable organisations to meet this standard more easily.

 

Worker Safety and Wellbeing

One company hot on the trend is Kinetic. The company is tackling the common work-related injuries, sprains and strains, previously prevented by avoiding bending and reaching. The company produces the Kinetic Reflex, a device that can be attached to a belt to monitor posture. If bending, twisting or reaching is detected, it will notify the worker.  A four-week pilot showed a 96 per cent reduction in sprain and strain risk meaning this device could be one to watch out for.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) that is connected to the internet can also monitor how workers interact with their environments. In an environment that includes humans and robots, wearables equipped with GPS sensors can help avoid collisions and alert workers when entering hazardous areas.

Figure 1

Worker safety can also be improved using connected gas detection equipment, which allows plant managers or safety managers to track employees’ exposure to toxic substances, radiation or low oxygen conditions.

As well as worker safety, worker comfort can be improved with wearable technology. Take the Chairless Chair, for example, developed by Noonee. This unusual wearable allows its user to sit down anywhere. It can be worn while walking and standing and move into chair position on command. Suited to the individual’s shape and size, it promotes good posture, improving comfort and wellbeing.

 

Boosting Productivity

As well as improving the safety and wellbeing of engineers, wearable devices can be implemented to increase the productivity of businesses.

Workers can use wearable devices to communicate with colleagues, regardless of their location, without having to cease their current activity. Even with the excellent communication technology available to us today, it can be difficult to reach the person you need when you need them. If every worker in a business wears a device that others can contact them on, this will no longer be a problem.

Working on a site away from the office can be a daunting prospect for young, less experienced engineers. Using Google Glass, an optical head-mounted display, they can send a live video to their supervisor, showing what they can see and what they are doing. This way, supervisors can train new engineers and guide them through jobs remotely, to make sure work is carried out correctly.

Thanks to voice command software, wearable devices can also enable workers to communicate with machines. This means that they can conduct tasks — such as starting a machine or moving materials — remotely, while simultaneously working on a different hands-on activity. If all workers could multitask in this way, businesses could massively increase their productivity. 

Further benefitting the factory floor, wearable devices can be linked to enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, allowing workers to instantly obtain real-time inventory information. This can be used to prepare for inventory arrival, quickly react to customer demand and avoid delays in the supply chain — increasing the business’ customer service and profitability. Also, when workers need an item from the inventory, they can use wearables to instantly determine its availability and have it delivered to their location.

Machine faults are a common cause of productivity loss in a factory. Many manufacturers already implement sensor technology so that they can be alerted when machine faults occur. However, this relies on engineers regularly checking devices to see whether a fault has been detected. If they could pick up the alerts on a wearable device, they would receive the message instantly, increasing their chance of fixing the problem before downtime occurs.

Many plant managers spend a large amount of time organizing plant schedules and allocating tasks to the workforce. ClickSoftware enables them to delegate this role entirely to technology. All employees wear a GPS-enabled device and the software assigns tasks based on the location of each worker. This gives the optimum productivity, leaving plant managers more time to spend on other tasks.

 

Barriers in Technological Advancement

Although the benefits of wearable devices are already being experienced by consumers and in industrial settings, there are several barriers to overcome before we can see their full potential. 

Because wearables must be small and lightweight, battery life is a huge constraint and the greater the capabilities of the device, the faster it drains the battery. If businesses are to become reliant on the capabilities of wearable devices, they will need to gain far better battery lives than technology currently provides. The small size of wearables is also a hindrance for the use of devices that display large amounts of information and require larger screens.

For businesses to use wearables to communicate with remote workers, they may need to expand their wireless networks. In doing so, the cyber security threats will increase, therefore they will need to ensure their corporate security measures cover these new technologies.

Wearable technology can improve worker safety and comfort while also increasing the productivity, and therefore profitability, of businesses. It’s no longer just smart watches and fitness trackers — wearable tech is set to become a must-have for engineers.

 

About the author

Jonathan Wilkins is the marketing director of industrial automation components supplier, EU Automation. A professional brand advocate and commercial marketing strategist, Jon focuses on delivering growth via a multi-channel approach that has a significant positive impact on business. He has been part of the EU Automation team since its beginning nine years ago and has over a decade of experience in marketing.

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