Wearable Technology is a Natural Fit in Manufacturing

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Sometimes I think the manufacturing revolution taking place today, driven by information technology, has barely started. What if we’re only just beginning to see what the factory of the future will look like?

I use the word “see” literally, because technology like Google Glass is bound to seep into manufacturing sooner or later – probably sooner.

Consider how companies are already using this technology outside of manufacturing. For example, Virgin Atlantic has instituted an innovative customer service program at London’s Heathrow Airport, where workers wear Google Glasses linked to their customer database. The results are either spooky or exciting, depending on how you feel about this sort of thing. Staff can use the technology to greet every customer by name, provide updates on flight information, talk about events or the weather at the destination where the customer is heading. And, this technology can even translate information into other languages. The airline says they’re trying it out in response to a study that has shown that customers want a better flying experience.

This is just one example of how the Internet of Things might have an impact on user experiences. Whether or not this particular experiment succeeds, one thing is clear: as we evolve towards a society where the user experience is “king,” any opportunity that companies have for differentiation should be seriously considered. Which brings us back to manufacturing.

Wearables for Process Improvement

It’s easy to imagine some very exciting applications on the factory floor. Think of a quality inspector with Google Glass or other “wearable” technology walking the production line and seeing live performance metrics about the actual running process he’s looking at (somewhat like the Terminator’s visual readouts in the sci-fi movie series). The inspector could call up any relevant information, perhaps by voice command or by eye movement, to see specifications, defect patterns, or anything else desired.

Watch this Autoline Video showing BMW testing Google Glass for Quality Improvement.

Another application might be in the warehouse, where workers could see maps with locations of any item needed, as well as where to deliver it. This could reduce wasted time in moving supplies, and could greatly aid Just-in-Time manufacturing schemes.

It might even be possible to add some kind of learning capability to these applications, so the user experience becomes more and more personalized and helpful over time.

Wouldn’t you want to do business with (or work at) a company that could offer this kind of innovative experience? It would be more than a manufacturing tool—it would be a sales tool as well. A manufacturer that wanted to impress customers with its commitment to quality could have them don a pair of glasses and tour the factory, receiving live readouts on every important activity and event. Here’s our quality performance, right before your eyes!

I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface on this topic. There’s no reason to think the manufacturing transformation now underway is anywhere close to its endpoint, or that it even has one! Every new technology that comes along, if it can improve the user experience, is a candidate for manufacturing applications. We’d better get used to the idea that today’s fad may well become tomorrow’s manufacturing advantage.

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Michal can be found on Google+