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Brian Ballard

When Google Glass launched in May 2014, consumers struggled to figure out how the product could fit into their everyday lives. Fast forward to today, and smart glasses have found a welcoming home — the enterprise. In fact, a new Forrester Research report finds that enterprises are expected to spend more than $30 billion on smart glasses through 2025. A majority of these enterprises are manufacturers, many of whom are discovering the value smart glasses can bring to the workforce on the shop floors. The reality is that as factories get smarter and more information-rich, there is a very real need to get that critical information to the people participating in those work processes, in a format that is more readily accessible and safer than earlier experiments with mobile technology on the factory floor.

Using smart glasses equipped augmented and assisted reality software applications, shop floor workers receive critical information, including complex instructions, reference documents, diagrams, checklists, machine data, images and videos, right in their line of sight. The availability and accessibility of vital information supports greater overall productivity, allowing workers to do their jobs with first-time quality and resolve issues while keeping their hands free.

The following are six ways smart glasses on the shop floor are helping manufacturers improve efficiency and quality:

  1. Instant visibility into production data. Smart glasses can connect with a manufacturer’s systems of record, like an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Manufacturing Execution System (MES), to provide workers with real-time data, charts and graphics depicting information essential to production. Machine state, shift state, line yields and even Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) are available at the worker’s fingertips — or, as this new capability suggests, in their field of view. With access to this information, users can make adjustments to their processes to unveil new efficiencies. For example, Jabil, a global provider of electronics design, production and product management services, is using customized workflows on smart glasses to track OEE on multiple lines at one facility. With this insight, Jabil improves production line availability to ensure the timely processing of customer orders.
  2. Real-time troubleshooting and error handling. When an issue occurs on the line, operators may halt production to consult an instruction manual or ask a colleague for help. But, with smart glasses, workers can instantly connect and communicate with experts not only across the plant, but across the globe. By streaming their first-person view of the situation, shop floor workers can obtain real-time guidance through “see what I see” live video collaboration. As a result, problems are resolved faster and more effectively so that production can continue as normal.
  3. Digital inspections. If a defect is observed during production, an inspector typically documents it in a paper defect log. It is unlikely that notes in the log are standardized, meaning that technicians have to perform additional diagnostic tests and request even more data at the end of the line. Smart glasses can simplify the entire task. For instance, a worker in an automotive plant could wear smart glasses to see an overlay of all defects associated with the vehicle within their view. Then, he or she can pull up repair guides and videos, take before and after photos, and record the repair’s progress to create an accurate audit trail for quality control purposes.
  4. Resource utilization. Manufacturers also use smart glasses to better utilize their resources. With a more connected workforce, managers and workflow automation systems can redirect or alert personnel on the line to prevent bottlenecks and meet peak production levels. Through data collection software, managers can track important productivity statistics to maximize throughput, reduce errors and raise quality.
  5. Knowledge capture. Between the retirement of millions of Baby Boomers and the widening gap of available skilled job applicants in manufacturing, enterprises need a way to quickly upskill both new and existing employees. Smart glasses help bridge the gap with their knowledge capture capabilities. Experienced employees wear smart glasses as they perform their tasks, recording video, photos and audio detailing the procedure or process. New employees then accesses this captured knowledge while on the job and forego reading pages of manuals to get up to speed. The learning curve is shorter and less-experienced operators can perform more critical tasks without the need to pull experienced senior staff off the line to assist.
  6. Increased workforce safety. Of course, there is a safety aspect to using smart glasses on the shop floor. In addition to keeping workers hands-free and nimble, smart glasses can enhance a manufacturer’s safety culture. One manufacturer is using smart glasses to record procedures and perform job hazard analyses. Through smart glasses, plant floor workers can view the various required gear, as well as the appropriate safety processes they must take. Again, there is no need to refer to a manual and the margin of error is significantly reduced.

As smart glasses continue to settle into the enterprise space, we’ll see more manufacturers uncovering new applications for the technology across every aspect of the manufacturing and supply process — from complex assembly and production to packaging, logistics and distribution. The result will be a more connected, empowered workforce that can learn faster, respond quicker, produce high-quality products and contribute to the company’s overall success.

Brian Ballard is CEO at Upskill, formally APX Labs.

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