The automation of materials handling is a relentless pursuit for some logistics and intralogistics companies. We see it with robots, with machine learning, with endless miles of conveyor belts. But the truth is that the role of the human worker will stay very central in logistics and material handling systems for the foreseeable future.
As Elon Musk has famously said, “Humans are underrated.”
Humans are unparalleled in their ability to see, conceive, and adapt seamlessly to the smallest variations – with or without a signal prompt. A human can see when the line is broken, when a piece is missing, when the dimensional capacity is a mismatch, speed is incorrect, or the color shade is incorrect in more instances than a machine can. We will continue to make our machines smarter, and we will continue to create tools to augment human capability. But it is humans who will continue to lead the industrial revolution. After all, who will be running those automated machines in the long run? Yes: Humans.
A Combined Wearable Solution for Fluid Workflows
Empowering the human worker today with the tools to do their job smartly, fluidly, comfortably and productively is a priority for both Picavi and ProGlove. We are working together to bring “smart glasses” together with “smart gloves” to improve the interface between human workers and modern material handling systems.
Says Jens Harig, CEO of Picavi, “Our aim is to provide the best support for the workers on the job today. It’s a matter of completely digitizing processes and making the process-relevant information available to the employee. Technology should support people and not hinder them in their jobs. In this respect the ergonomics of the software and the hardware is very important.”
The Worker Interface for Material Handling Systems
Smart glasses use a software interface to deliver necessary information right into the worker’s field of vision. The worker doesn’t need to look down at a screen or pause a workflow to walk over to a fixed display. The smart glove, equipped with a ProGlove MARK wearable barcode scanner, captures the process activity.
The worker activates the scanner by pressing a thumb against the index trigger on the side of the hand wrap. LED light, acoustic sound, and haptic vibrations signal scan success for the worker. By making the barcode scanner personal and wearable, just as the glasses are, the worker doesn’t need to hunt around for a handheld scanner nor share a device with other workers.
The scanner signals to the material handling system the completion of the action item and instructions appear in the smart glasses for the next step. Workflows are more seamless. Workers remain attentive to their surroundings and to the job at hand with these wearable devices working in concert.
Says Thomas Kirchner, founder, ProGlove, “We always believed in these use cases so in the combination between smart glasses and our wearable scanner we will see these use cases much more often in the future.”
DB Schenker Pilots the Program
The combined solution is in use today at DB Schenker. Warehouse workers use Google Glass smart glasses and ProGlove wearable barcode scanners for a “pick-by-vision” solution designed by Picavi. Workers are now more mobile – no need to return to a central terminal for orders. And they have both hands free to operate forklifts and handle materials. For the back office, the solution interfaces directly with management systems for seamless workflows.
Confirms Jens Harig, “Results are impressive. Our customers achieve up to 30% performance increase, significantly less errors and minimal training periods for new employees. The employees have the hands-free and the relevant information at a glance at all times. They like this technology and DB Schenker wants to establish our solution as the new standard in their warehouses.”
Efficient and Ergonomic Solution for Material Handling Systems
When access to material handling systems is optimized for worker ergonomics with smart wearables companies will see gains in accuracy and efficiency. By bringing data directly to the worker it allows them to be more mobile. Facilities can flex more easily to meet seasonal shifts in demand when human workers have more freedom of movement. Workers can attend to the task at hand, wherever that may be, instead of being tied to a single workstation. One which may be inconveniently located to the work at hand.
Thomas Kirchner concludes, “As a company we always believe in the human worker. We believe in focusing everything we do around the human worker making his life more ergonomic, simple, and efficient. The human worker is in the center of what we’re doing. The solution between the smart glasses and our wearable scanner is the perfect example of that.”