In 1992, a portable data terminal—a handheld computer running a DOS operating system—was worn in a pack on the back of a warehouse employee who had a keyboard and display strapped to an arm in addition to a barcode scanner worn on the back of a hand. The keyboard, display and scanner were all connected by a cable that ran down the arm to the data terminal. While the technology represented an improved approach to picking items to fill orders, the bulky equipment and use limitations did not appeal to warehouses, distribution centers or manufacturers.
“Thirty years ago, no one knew how useful wearable technology would be for the supply chain, and it was seen as a distraction rather than a benefit,” said Jerome Mascarenhas, technical director at MHI member Almasons. “Today, the introduction of the android operating system has been a game-changer, making the technology lighter, smaller and faster as well as user-friendly.”
Wearable technology improvements— that have turned the bulky portable computer to a small pad worn on a wrist and a handheld scanner to a device worn on a finger—are welcomed by more warehouse and distribution center operators. The technology fills a need to work more efficiently, safely and faster as the explosion of e-commerce demands occur at the same time the industry is experiencing workforce challenges.
“In a soon-to-be-released Zebra Warehouse Vision Study, nearly 9-in- 10 warehouse operators agree they must implement new technology to be competitive in the on-demand economy,” said Mark Wheeler, director of supply chain solutions for MHI member Zebra Technologies. “They are focusing on technologies that support workforce augmentation and workflow automation.” In addition, 27% of warehouse operators have already deployed some form of autonomous mobile robots (AMR), and this number is expected to grow to 90% within the next five years, he added. “During this timeframe, 9-in-10 warehouse operators also expect their use of sensor-based technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID), computer vision, fixed industrial scanning and machine vision systems to become more prevalent.”
With the rise of the on-demand economy, most people expect online orders to be delivered on the same or the next day, said Wheeler. “Warehouse operators can now select from a whole spectrum of modern wearable technologies to comfortably outfit their workers to work more accurately and quickly across an ever-increasing breadth of material handling and order fulfillment tasks.”