Wearable Technology Creates Efficiencies for Manufacturing

To date, many wearable technology applications have focused on everyday, recreational activities. Golfsense's glove-based sensor works to improve a player's swing. Frog Design's subway navigation bracelet alerts travelers to subway train times. Instabeat's goggle-mounted sensor allows swimmers to monitor heartbeat and calorie burn in the pool.

A recent article in sister publication IMT Machining Journal highlights some of the potential applications of wearable technology in manufacturing. Imagine hands-free devices that show, in real time, the location of a faulty wire on a production line, or clothing that notifies workers on the shop floor of the presence of a toxic substance.

"There are definitely sectors in which wearable technology products can improve or simplify manufacturing processes," said Christian Stammel, CEO and founder of Wearable Technologies. "They can increase the safety and agility of the workers and are convenient to wear, as users have their hands free."

In a recent interview with IMT, Stammel listed a range of potential industrial applications for wearable technology, many of which are in development or already available for purchase:

  • Processes where workers need both hands
  • High-risk operations
  • Processes requiring high precision
  • Physically and/or emotionally tiring jobs
  • Remote monitoring and management
  • Hazardous material detection
  • Security profiling
  • Real-time data
  • Identity recognition
  • Tracking solutions

Some of the wearable technologies with potential for manufacturing include smart glasses and watches, sensors, and textiles.

Smart Glasses and Smart Watches

Google Glass aside, other smart glasses, such as Motorola Solutions' HC1, allow workers to find information without using their hands, leaving their stations to go to a computer, or even speak with a co-worker. User manuals, warnings, or the location of a broken sensor appear right in a wearer's field of vision. Smart glasses can also contact remote team members with a voice command or turn of the wearer's head.

One of the goals of Vuzix's M100 hands-free, wearable smartphone is to simplify processes while increasing efficiency and accuracy. Workers wearing the device can be visually instructed where they need to be in a warehouse to pick up a part. After retrieving the part, the item is automatically subtracted from a centralized inventory database. If the wrong part is picked, workers receive real-time notification of the error.

Increasing safety and security are the objectives of the Limmex Emergency Watch, which gives workers the ability to call for assistance at the touch of a button. For night workers or workers laboring alone, this technology not only provides a sense of comfort, but it can also be a lifeline in an emergency.

Sensors

PrimeSense's 3D sensing technology heightens security by identifying individuals through their body proportions, movements, and gestures. The sensor works with other digital devices to observe a scene in 3D.

MORE from ThomasNet News: Does Gesture-Recognition Technology Have a Role in Manufacturing?

Other sensors can monitor a worker's productivity and determine when an individual needs a break. Vancive's Metria patch measures heart rate, temperature, and respiration, as well as activity levels; this ability to understand exertion levels could ultimately lead to a reduction in injuries as well as in error rates.

Textiles

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies (EMFT) in Germany have developed a glove that turns blue in the presence of toxic substances. The group is working on additional applications for the fabric, including integrating it into food packaging to reflect the freshness of the contents.

Clothing, like that from Climaware, can heat or cool according to an environment or a person's body temperature. The products are designed for use in extreme environments, temperature-variable spaces, or rooms with large numbers of individuals. The technology can be easily incorporated into any kind of apparel or accessories. Wearers can even customize a garment to their preferred temperature.

Attractive Options for Manufacturing

Stammel attributed wearable technology's ease of application in manufacturing to a combination of factors, including the availability of Bluetooth and mobile technologies, the low cost and low-power sensor requirements of wearable technology, and the introduction of improved user interfaces.

Recent developments in manufacturing and packaging are also helping make wearable technologies a viable and attractive commercial option. "The miniaturization of batteries and the development of flexible electronics and conductive fibers opens a wide range of new manufacturing possibilities, allowing the integration of high tech into regular clothing and facilitating the use of these technologies among consumers," said David Fattal, principal scientist of the photonics research group affiliated with Hewlett-Packard.

Yet, in spite of the benefits of wearable technology, "Most manufacturers have yet to realize the possibilities and capabilities," said Joe Rizzo, contributing writer for TMCNet, a publication group focused on advanced technologies. Rizzo hopes manufacturers recognize "the invaluable ability of wearable technology to automate certain things and to monitor a large range of scenarios, as well as the huge benefit of increased workforce productivity that wearable technology can enable."

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