May 31, 2019
Wearables and the Warehouse of the Future
The priority of the warehouse of the future is no longer the general storage of goods, but rather a focus on the fast movement of products with as few touches as possible. The way Inventory is 'moved' to the end-user is changing, and these changes require new strategies and workflows integrating new technologies which ultimately increase productivity.
One such technology is wearable devices. Wearable technology is using devices such as smart watches, Fitbits, or smart glasses that help the worker on the factory/warehouse floor to work more efficiently. Wearables enable workers to work hands free, access information, identify their tasks, and reduce errors usually found in manual data entry, thereby improving employee performance.
Newly designed barcode scanners that fit on wrists or fingers eliminate any form of manual data entry, while smart glasses allow employees to find inventory items simply by looking at them. From an employer's perspective, implementing wearable tech enables you to track your workers' productivity levels and check the accuracy of their picking/packing – this allows you to reward them based on traceable and reliable KPI's. Adding in an element of fun and perhaps even some form of Corporate Social Initiative would help to get employees to buy into this new approach. For example, you could run a competition on the number of steps your warehouse staff take each day – this could be linked to donating X amount per 10,000 steps to a charity, AND the top employee could be awarded a prize or time off.
Another benefit is the safety aspect that this technology provides. As seen in this video by DHL, knowing your staff's location on the floor can avoid potential collisions, which can be potentially life-threatening. From an efficiency point of view, you can allocate picking tasks to staff closest to the bin/shelves in question by knowing their exact location. From a wellness perspective, you can monitor employees heart rates and quickly determine when an employee may need a break or is at risk of falling asleep, minimizing their and your risk. Monitoring data that shows employees movement through the warehouse will provide insights on how to remove congestion and improve performance.
Picking by vision using augmented reality is another efficient and productive way to reduce errors significantly. Employees receive all the information they need in their field of vision, like store locations, part numbers, etc. The employer benefits as it's more efficient and cost effective to have key information readily accessible, and the employee benefits as it fosters productivity while reducing stress and mistakes.
There will always be arguments for and against introducing wearables into the workplace – the importance of employee's wellbeing, safety, and productivity versus data privacy concerns, risk of discrimination, and staff morale issues. This will be a balancing act as the tech develops.
So, before you rush out and fit all your employees with these accessories, you need to take careful consideration of the rules around the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and other country-specific legalities. For example, a DPIA is one specific process mandated by the GDPR whereby companies carry out a Data Privacy Impact Assessment (DPIA) first, to assess the necessity of the company's technology plans. This assessment is used to show that the company has made an appropriate risk assessment and has achieved the correct balance between allowing workers to enjoy privacy in their workplace while ensuring the interests of the business are protected. The company must show that they have considered alternatives to monitoring staff and collecting their data through wearables or if there are any other less intrusive options.
You only need to read the statistics to see that wearables are abundant in our work and recreational lives, and their presence will only grow from here. The questions you need to ask yourself are clear: what is your digital strategy? And is wearable technology part of that strategy?
Written by Barry Kukkuk
Barry comes from a systems architect and application development background. He started his career as the co-founder and chief developer for Icon Retail Management, a full-fledged retail management system that integrated with mainstream ERP. Barry later conceptualized and developed Inventory Optimiza for Barloworld Logistics and provided technical support for the application. It was here where Barry’s passion for Inventory Management solutions began and the industry where he would later return. Barry went on to start his own business in 2008, where he was an avid user of cloud-based apps and would only use online solutions for his business. In 2010 Barry began his journey with NETSTOCK. His enthusiasm for Inventory Management and his strong belief in “all things Cloud” collided, and we saw the release of the Inventory Management solution - NETSTOCK. Barry is the CTO at NETSTOCK, where he is responsible for all customer-facing technologies and systems that keep thousands of NETSTOCK customer instances working correctly.