Factory-Floor Wearables Advance ‘Internet of Things’ in Manufacturing

‘Ceaseless’ sensors are being installed on equipment and worn by employees that provide continuous monitoring, collect valuable data and make quick, automatic adjustments to systems to keep them humming. The trend even includes the appearance of more wearables such as Google Glass.

Major U.S. manufacturers, including General Electric and Honeywell, have been tapping into IoT and deploying massive quantities of networked new devices in their plants, according to The Wall Street Journal. One example is Stanley Black & Decker, which has been pioneering techniques at its manufacturing center in Reynosa, Mexico. The power-tool manufacturer is using sensors to spot problems and delays in the production line faster than human workers can.

“The PC will be dead on the shop floor. Turning people into essentially walking sensors is going to be the future.”

RFID tags are also being placed along assembly lines at DeWalt, also a power tools maker, to monitor the output of jigsaws, planers and cordless drills and then wirelessly relay data that includes product timestamps and number of products completed, the Journal said. Analytics software fires off alerts when necessary to supervisors’ desktops, smartphones and tablets.

LOOKING AHEAD
Suppliers expect an imminent explosion of IoT applications in automotive plants. Jason Prater, vice president of development for cloud-based manufacturing-software company Plex Systems, regaled an audience of industry executives at a Michigan conference recently with assurances that the time is now for such technology.

“There’s a perception manufacturing is still in the Dark Ages, that people are still banging on hammers putting things together,” Prater said. “That’s not true. We are the leading edge.”

And the leading edge now, he said, is that “the PC will be dead on the shop floor. Turning people into essentially walking sensors is going to be the future.” The wearable technology involved will include devices like Google Glass that factory workers can wear on the job to transmit data automatically. There also will be smart watches and smart vests that “will allow you to continue using your hands without having to input or look for data.”

In turn, factory-software systems using the data will be able to adjust tooling and equipment without human intervention, Prater said. “It will allow seamless interactions. They will solve a lot of problems on the shop floor.”

At the same time, workers will benefit, and not just from the automation of processes that they currently must conduct manually. In the wave of sensors that can be worn in a vest are those that can help prevent accidents, for example, as well as others that monitor a worker’s body temperature on the job and send out a signal if a person’s temperature gets too high or too low.

These devices tied into the Internet of Things promise immense gains. Harnessing them on the factory floor could help American companies keep their technology lead.

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