Supply chain management is getting an adrenaline shot in the arm with emerging wearable and mobile technologies. From smart glasses, to voice-directed hands-free wearable scanners, to real-time views of every touchpoint within the supply chain via mobile devices, manufacturers, distributors and their partners are experimenting with various technologies to expedite processes, improve worker safety and increase transparency within the supply chain to proactively free up potential bottlenecks.
More and more companies are piloting the use of smart glasses within their supply chains, often combined with Internet of Things (IoT) device experimentation, to understand how the technology can augment existing systems, says Joe Fitzgerald, Deloitte’s senior manager, high tech supply chain practice in San Francisco.
“As the technology improves and pilot projects achieve results, certain applications for the smart glasses—when integrated with existing enterprise systems—will likely provide significant improvement over existing solutions, such as handheld devices, scanners and PC terminals on a shop floor,” Fitzgerald says. “It will take some time before there is broad adoption since smart glasses do not offer improvement over existing solutions in every circumstance. That said, adoption will be led by those with high value problems where the cost of downtime or a quality issue is high.”
Many of the smart glasses that could be used in supply chains today are priced “on par” with handheld scanners, which cost several thousand dollars each, he says. For example, Google Glass was priced around $1,500 and Epson glasses are available online for $699.
However, hardware design has been “the bottleneck,” Fitzgerald says, but many of the vendors are developing improvements upon their first edition smart glasses. There should be more customized headsets for different industrial applications, as there are specific requirements that need to be met for specific uses or safety regulations.
Google is continuing to work on supply chain applications for Google Glass, even though they ended sales of the product under its Explorer program in January, says Google spokeswoman Anna Richardson White.
“We are continuing to sell to businesses and developers building enterprise software,” White wrote in an emailed statement. “We are just closing the Explorer program which allowed everyday folks to use Glass and help us figure out how to make it better. The program—our beta test—is now over as we work on future versions of the device.”
Google Glass is “still pretty much a work in progress and it was designed for generic use,” Guillaume Chansin, senior analyst with IDTechEx in Cambridge, U.K., says. Chansin believes supply chains will need custom solutions with longer battery lives that are comfortable to wear all day.
“I think the problem is that any custom device will cost a lot more, so businesses will think twice before investing in the technology,” he says. “They will want to make sure they get a good return on investment.”
Dan C. Cui, vice president sales and business development at smart glass vendor Vuzix Corp. in Rochester, N.Y., said that major corporations around the world are already implementing the company’s product, which sells for $1,000 a unit. While Cui agrees that while “form, fit and feel” are key criteria, custom solutions are not the answer.
“No industrial customer wants to buy special products, the costs are just too high to justify over the time they’ll be in use, he says. “Off-the-shelf hardware with reconfigurable software is the way to go and that’s what we and our software partners provide.”
By Katie Kuehner-Hebert