Safety & efficiency: the future of wearables in logistics

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Safety & efficiency: the future of wearables in logistics

The logistics industry is no stranger to technological change. Few warehouses would consider using a hand-written ledger or other analogue methods in 2020 when standalone digital kiosks and tablets have become the norm. These digital improvements have allowed for greater speed and efficiency, yet there are still gaps to be filled when it comes to logistics technology.

Seconds matter in logistics, where even a short delay in activity can cause issues further along the delivery chain. What’s more, the need for accuracy in identifying, handling, and processing packages is of keen importance. On average, businesses across the globe experience an average shrinkage rate of about 1.44%; given that the worldwide logistics industry is worth approximately 5.5 trillion euros, these losses and inefficiencies add up to billions missing from company balance sheets.

Major firms have begun the search for solutions to these issues. There’s a great deal of promise in wearables –  technology that, as the name implies, you can wear on your body and use to improve the logistics processes. Much of this technology is available here and now, while some remains just over the horizon. In any case, these devices could define the future of logistics tech and are already seeing increased adoption in companies seeking the next competitive edge.

With wearables, workers don’t have to return to a kiosk to input information or carry around a tablet computer while multitasking on their regular job duties. In the same way, our smartphones vibrate or ping to alert us to new texts and calls, so too can wearables provide alerts when new information arrives over a 5G network. With the right wearable technology, the potential for better worker efficiency and reduced stress in a fast-moving work environment is substantial.

However, as with most large-scale changes, the logistics industry has just recently jumped on the wearables trend. Managers are hesitant to implement technology that has not been widely used for a significant period of time. This hesitancy has been consistent across the logistics departments and warehouses globally, yet the old way of doing business is rapidly changing.

Social distancing compliance has become a priority for logistics companies dedicated to keeping their employees safe while effectively maintaining operations. The upside of wearables in reducing contact between workers while streamlining their duties have prompted an accelerated drive toward the adoption of this tech, particularly in the fight against COVID-19.

Wearables For Worker Health & Productivity

IoT Logistics Startups
Picture Credit: Scandit

The most well-known wearables on the consumer market are smartwatches like the Apple Watch and fitness trackers like Fitbit or Jawbone. These devices – no larger than the size of a wristwatch, keep track of a variety of metrics, including the user’s daily steps, heart rate, sleeping time. Users can review the metrics through an associated app.

These types of wearables can be combined with augmented reality (AR) capabilities that expand their possibilities even further. Companies like Scandit develop applications that take advantage of the high-quality cameras on consumer smartphones for use in barcode and product scanning. When the information is received, the app can instantly display information about a product. Through artificial intelligence, these apps can identify text on printing labels and even recognize products themselves without a barcode.

Scandit’s technology has helped companies like Hermes improve operations, with one going so far as to replace their dedicated barcode scanners with Samsung devices, which workers now use to scan multiple packages at once. This has significantly reduced van load times. When combined with the capability to send and receive images confirming package pickup and delivery, the company was able to deliver more packages with fewer delivery errors, simply by applying logistic industry tech to modern consumer devices.

It’s not just smartphones and worn-on-wrist devices that are seeing greater adoption. Smart glasses manufacturer Vuzix highlights their products for use in warehouses, mainly to scan barcodes, record video, and process information without having to lift a finger.  Not only does this improve tracking, but such touch-free devices can also create a safer employee work experience.

Greater Efficiency & Safety

Picture Credit: Kinetic

Wearable products like these are not only improving warehouse efficiency, but are also helping keep employees safe and healthy, a win-win situation for both management and workers.

Products like Kinetic’s REFLEX wearable accomplish this by alerting workers when their posture is unsafe and providing real-time feedback when the wearer is in motion. Both of these functionalities prevent potential injuries before they have a chance to occur.

While Kinetic’s products work autonomously, many of the latest wearable releases augment a worker’s capabilities, allowing them to do more with greater accuracy and efficiency. For example, warehouse workers spend much of their time scanning barcodes, in order to expedite shipping and order fulfillment. Devices like KOMATAC’s finger-trigger and ring scanners take a hands-free approach to scanning, allowing workers to do more with lighter, portable technology. While the risk of coronavirus transmission via packaging is low, warehouse workers and delivery drivers often handle hundreds or thousands of packages per day. Reducing contact with any potential virus vector should be a priority.

Likewise, commercial insurance company Amerisure provides wearable devices to some of its policyholders and noted a 43% decrease in workers’ compensation claims. This has a substantive impact on logistics, as the injury rate for warehouse workers is 5.1 per 100 employees, double the US average of 2.8 per 100. By implementing proactive technology to protect employees, Workers retain their salaries while companies ensure sustainable and optimal productivity in their places of business.

What’s more, Wearable devices have added new functionalities to help combat the spread of COVID-19. Kinetic’s REFLEX wearables not only improve worker posture and movement, as mentioned above, but were also recently updated to assist with social distancing as well. Proximity sensors provide alerts when employees come within one meter of each other, which is the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended social distancing length. Real-time data collection also helps with contact tracing, providing precise reports that help managers make decisions to reduce contamination.

Beyond the Warehouse

Werables in Logistics
Picture Credit: Optalert

Warehouses, where employees work in close proximity and process large quantities of packages, are one of the prime beneficiaries of wearable tech, but they’re not the only places where these devices are catching on.

Some of the most eager users of these products are in the trucking industry, where driver fatigue is estimated to cause around 70% of accidents. To combat this issue, drivers can wear smartwatches that can regularly vibrate and alert drivers when they should take a break, or even change lanes when a car is in their blind spot. Beyond smartwatches, the company Optalert provides glasses that can detect when a driver takes their eyes off the road, stopping a drowsy motorist from causing an accident as soon as they begin to nod off. The device functions through LED monitoring of the user’s eyes, and keeps them in the loop with real-time information and tracking that makes the driver a part of the wearable safety system.

Ensuring that workers know how to properly use and maintain their wearable devices is the first step in seeing a wider, more beneficial adoption. There’s no question that these products are changing the way logistics companies scan, process, and ship their items. By 2021, enterprise device shipments are expected to reach 151 million – a testament to the high demand for new solutions in the logistics industry.

Even this estimate is likely on the low end of what we can expect by next year. The changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic have created an increased urgency for leveraging the latest tech toward avoiding emergencies in the workplace. Companies that increase their investment in wearables in logistics can reduce the likelihood of transmission, via contact tracing and social distancing features built into some devices, while improving scanning efficiency through a ring, hand, and smart glasses scanners.

These changes may have taken years prior to the pandemic – but now, as companies worldwide start on the path toward reopening, we can expect to see wearables become a mainstay of the logistics industry within the next year. The increased safety, improved efficiency, and heightened worker confidence are major benefits in implementing wearables in the logistics industry. Companies should be on the lookout for chances to improve their operations using these products, particularly as they strive to do their part in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping their operations as secure and efficient as humanly possible.

Cover photo: Optalert

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