As with all technologies, wearables have their share of detractors as well as companies who might be interested in the technology but not quite ready to make the switch. For starters, the cost of wearable hardware may be prohibitive for some smaller companies—especially considering the wide range of affordable options in the traditional handheld realm. “There are a lot of cheap alternatives in the handheld space,” notes Hartwell. “If you want to go down a cheap handheld scanner route, you can easily implement an Android phone or barcode scanning mount. It won’t be a great experience, but it will be an inexpensive way to get everyone on radio frequency. “On the other hand, with wearables, you’re paying for something that’s built for logistics,” she adds. Other challenges associated with wearables include changing worker behavior, practical considerations about whether the equipment is ideal in particular settings, and any software or technology concerns with implementation. “Not all legacy warehouse management systems instantly work out of the box on a handheld wearable,” Hartwell explains. “In some cases, companies need to put in some sort of custom development to interface.” Another challenge is nding relevancy amid other large and pressing supply chain challenges in the current climate. “With the context of the macro environment right now, supply chains are a mess,” notes Elhawary of Kinetic. “There are so many things going on in the minds of operations leaders that getting them to focus on wearables doesn’t always work.” What works for most companies when making the choice to embrace wearables in their warehouses is nding success for their specic goals. Here are a few examples of companies that have done just that and found that wearables are the right t for their needs.
To improve efficiency at one of its letter and parcel-sorting centers, worldwide shipping provider DHL’s DHL Express Belgium turned to a wearable solution fromBelgium- and New York-based Iristick, which manufactures a line of rugged, industrial-grade, head-mounted smart glasses. By combining hands-free barcode scanning and voice commands, Iristick enables effective sorting operations as well as pick-by-vision capabilities. “We offer what is called second-generation smart glasses, which means that our smart glasses are connected to a smartphone— that’s where our processing power comes from,” explains Johan DeGeyter, Iristick CEO. “The glasses are equipped with two cameras— one central camera and one optical zoom camera on the side. The smartphone uses the camera feed to detect barcodes, which are then processed or fed into an underlying computer system.” In DHL Express’ case, Iristick was deployed for workers who man the conveyor belts carrying mail from the postal service as well as small parcels being sorted for routing to last-mile delivery. The conveyor works at high speed and DHL Express wanted to boost workers’ ability to sort quickly and efficiently. By using Iristick’s smart glasses, “workers can just look at the box and the glasses scan the barcode,” DeGeyter explains. Instructions on what to do with the package then pop up in a small screen at the top corner of the glasses. “By the time a worker physically holds the package, all the information is already there,” he adds. “We are pleased with the Iristick glasses: the speed and accuracy of barcode reading and decoding is optimal, operators adopt them quickly and hardly any training is required,” says Peter Swillen, OPS systems manager for DHL. “Hands-free scanning speeds shipment handling, and the glasses make in-depth address knowledge obsolete. It allows for flexibility in sort planning as the glasses constantly retrieve and display the most recent and optimal sort position.” The two companies worked together closely to ensure the glasses were functioning ideally for the DHL environment. “Iristick has been supportive during several test iterations, improving the reading speed and accuracy of the glasses and developing accompanying software to facilitate the testing,” Swillen explains. “Whilewe first looked at assisted parcel sorting, we realized through the testing that ergonomically, the glasses are best suited for our letter sort.” As a next step, DHL is adapting its own data retrieval software in order to work seamlessly with the Iristick glasses. “Once that is ready, we can start rolling out in Belgium,” Swillen notes. “Additional countries have also already shown interest.”
January 2022 • Inbound Logistics 185
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