For too long the ergonomic needs of humans at work in factories and warehouses have been neglected in an endless pursuit of improved efficiency. Automation continues to add value to work processes and lighten the load for humans, but as C.F. Kuka notes, “A factory staffed by robots alone will remain an illusion.” This is a good thing. No one wants to see jobs replaced by robots. Even Apple confirms that human workers are superior to the option of automation. Yet technology can augment humans to great effect. This is at the core of what we do. Our products are designed to help humans work smarter, not harder.
It was in a factory setting where our founders lit upon the idea of making tools to make assembly, logistics, and materials processing more worker friendly. They could see those moments on the shop floor where focus was constantly disrupted by the basic task of barcode scanning: Parts for assembly were scanned upon receipt. Then scanned upon selection. Then scanned upon placement. Later scanned upon completion. All this scanning activity was distracting from the primary objective: quality assembly. Each scan posed a certain challenge – the worker had to locate the scanner, pick it up, and perform the scanning task for every step. Upon further investigation, it was learned that repetitive tasks such as this, and particularly those which limit freedom of movement, were especially problematic.
Ergonomics Benefit All Workers
Indeed, research shows that roughly 21% of work-related absences are caused by musculo-skeletal disorders (MSDs). An MSD is the classification for repetitive task related injuries like tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or even muscle and tendon strain. The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed that in 2013 MSD cases accounted for 33% of all worker injury and illness cases. And, according to OSHA, work-related MSDs are the most frequent cause of lost or restricted work time. For workers in factories, warehouses and distribution centers these injuries can mean a loss of livelihood.
It is in this kind of industrial environment where attention to ergonomics is key. Much has been made about ergonomics in offices, from chairs to pens to keyboards. But in industrial environments it is nearly the opposite. In fact, it is in these places that a rugged lack of ergonomics has become a hallmark. It doesn’t have to be this way. There are clear benefits to keeping ergonomics top of mind; among them are fewer workplace injuries, fewer lost work hours, lower insurance expenses, improved safety, lower turnover, greater productivity, and higher job satisfaction.
With these factors in mind, ProGlove designed a wearable for barcode scanning that workers would love. The MARK family of wearable barcode scanners untether workers from workstations to keep work flowing. This includes the MARK basic, MARK 2, and new MARK Display scanners which are exceptionally slim, lightweight, and durable. Interchangeably, these matchbox-sized scanners mount into personal wearables – a glove, wrap, or clip reel – that include a built-in trigger to activate the scanning function. Acoustic, visual, and haptic feedback signal success for each scan; the new MARK Display also features a high contrast, non-reflective, e-ink display to bring crucial information right to the back of the hand of the mobile worker.
And because wearables are, by definition, personal, there is less opportunity to spread germs between workers. Making it wearable also means scanners are less likely to be dropped or misplaced. The MARK wearables leave hands free, with full dexterity, to handle important work unimpeded.
Says Mehmet Tonbak, Manager of Continuous Improvement at Trelleborg, a global engineering group focused on polymer technology based in Sweden, “All workers wanted to use ProGlove immediately after introducing it.”
ProGlove continues to innovate with the human worker in mind. With COVID-19 impacting most every warehouse operation, we responded to an immediate need to help keep workers safe. ProGlove Connect Proximity is the new app for social distancing. This app leverages the acoustic, optic, and haptic feedback of the MARK scanner to alert workers when they are too close together. The app operates on Android devices and is available for free to ProGlove customers. It is already in use on ProGlove’s own assembly line headquartered in Munich, Germany.
Supporting Humans At Work
The barcode scanning solution designed by ProGlove is certified to be ergonomic by Prof. Dr. Bernhard Kurz at the Institute for Applied Ergonomy. With the scanner weight of just 1.4 oz workers can avoid the repetitive ‘heavy lifting’ of the average handheld scanner which, over the course of a shift, could save a worker from lifting 1.5 tons. That’s the weight of a compact car. Per shift. This is a significant difference in weight load between MARK and typical barcode scanners.
Further, with ProGlove wearables there is little evidence of skin irritation, chafing, or excessive sweat production. The materials used in the wearables are common to work gloves used in a variety of settings. Indeed, 95% of workers we surveyed said they would recommend ProGlove.
Other Safety Factors
Other safety factors are worth noting. There is little chance for disruption to cardiac pacemakers and other similar medical devices because the wireless scanner units use low transmission power. This level of power is comparable to a Bluetooth mouse. ProGlove scanners operate at a maximum mW between 10 and 25 (for device connectivity via BLE or RF at 868 MHz respectively) and typically half of that number. This compares favorably to a smartphone which operates at 2W and is therefore a greater risk. (Two watts is 2,000 milliwatts.) MARK is certified by FCC, UL, CE and IEC.
The Human-Centered UI for Data Capture
The MARK wearable barcode scanner brings to the human worker the interface between the inventory system and physical materials handling. Data capture and transmission are the primary role of scanners. It is worth noting that this data is related solely to the information in the barcodes scanned. The scanner communicates directly with back-office inventory management systems. In some ways this is like a computer keyboard: The device is simply an extension of an existing system. The MARK scanner is an ergonomic solution that rests conveniently on the back of the hand or is accessible via reel mount on a lanyard or belt clip. The kind of freedom of movement that this offers to humans at work drives ProGlove’s popularity at more than 500 companies in Europe and North America. Among them are BMW, DHL, and Lufthansa.