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Industry Wearables Deliver at BMW

Axel Schmidt
By Axel Schmidt Senior Communications Manager, ProGlove
Forklift driver with wearable barcode scanner. (Provided by ProGlove)

Many people may not be aware that the English word “manufacture” is of Latin origin and translates to “made by hand”. In fact, that is somewhat ironic—given that modern manufacturing attempts to limit the scope of manual work. With that said, automation, artificial intelligence, and robotics are necessary, but they cannot replace manual work and the human worker altogether. Not now, and not in the foreseeable future. But it also doesn’t make sense to strive for either extreme. Instead, organizations need to find the right balance. That balancing act requires driving the digitization of processes across the shop floor by connecting the human worker with the Internet of Things (IoT).

Ultimately, businesses are keen to improve on parameters such as quantity, quality, efficiency, prioritization and, of course, profitability. Every process provides important insights, and this data needs to be digitized. Barcodes have proven to be the most effective solution in practice. The technology is mature and, above all, comparatively easy to handle.

Micro-efficiencies Applied and Maximized

That is why scanner guns or even MDE handhelds are still found in large numbers across assembly lines and production facilities all over the world. For the longest time, there was simply no way around them. But things are changing. Industry wearables have appeared on the scene, which brings several advantages. First and foremost, they tap into micro-efficiencies that were long dismissed as being insignificant. After all, it’s only a matter of seconds—up to six seconds to be precise. However, such improvements often scale to deliver unbelievable values. These time savings result from eliminating superfluous motions. You no longer have to pick up a scanner and put it down, let alone search for it.

An example from the automotive industry illustrates this point. Automakers build about 1,000 vehicles per day in a plant. Each vehicle requires roughly 1,000 scans. So, every second saved per scan translates to a total saving of 1,000,000 seconds. Per day; per plant. That alone can trim some 12 worker-days in one business day.

One of our customers at ProGlove, BMW, needed accurate and efficient tracking of its original parts and accessories at all stages of the production and delivery of pre-orders. So, BMW engaged us to further introduce assembly line workers to more digital processes, leading to workers being able to comfortably scan thousands of parts per day and catch their errors immediately with process feedback.

Since these wearables can collect metadata with the help of sensors, this data can go beyond pure barcode content. Data such as step counts, information on barcode quality or on the total number of scans. This information actually narrates the true story of the plant floor. It reveals hotspots, creates the basis for time-motion studies, and much more. This will not replace common enterprise applications such as ERP or BI systems. Rather, it offers a stunning supplement that—when combined with artificial intelligence — can reveal patterns that would otherwise remain unseen by the human eye.

Employee Relief Pays Off

Wearable barcode scanners can also supply another crucial advantage. They can significantly relieve employees. This is a long overdue benefit, which the “Great Resignation” underscores. In high-frequency scanning environments, this can account for a significant weight reduction—more than a metric ton in some cases. After all, wearable scanners are barely larger than a matchbox and weigh less than two ounces (57 grams). Conventional scanner guns, on the other hand, can easily weigh ten to fifteen times as much—a difference that adds up over the course of a day, especially when you have to scan several thousand times.

With an integrated display, wearables also save travel time and increase attention. Employees no longer have to carry around notes or memorize instructions. Considering that most workplace accidents occur because of concentration deficits, wearables also become a significant safety factor that pays off in more than one way.

What Requirements Should Wearable Scanners Meet?

For the right wearable scanners to be deployed, they should be easy to integrate into the corporate network. In addition, they should not place too many demands on employees in terms of training or restrict their dexterity. Equally imperative are strong battery performance and fast charging times. Six thousand scans per battery charge with a charging time of less than two hours is well within the realm of possibility.

Users should also ask about the robustness of these devices. The leading manufacturers certify several hundred tumbles from a height of one meter as a benchmark.

You also need to decide where to wear the wearable. There are different approaches. Dexterity is a decisive factor when choosing where to place the device. So-called ring scanners significantly hamper dexterity. A similar problem arises when the device comes with unnecessary wires or other replaceable components that need additional maintenance.

The back of the hand, on the other hand, is virtually predestined for a small scanner. The scanner can sit there easily.

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