Anything that gets touched often in a warehouse is a potential health and safety concern since the onset of Covid-19, including industrial computers. However, wearable devices that have made inroads due to the productivity of their hands-free operation also carry a hygiene advantage: the high-touch parts can be cost effectively assigned to individual workers.
To accomplish this, wearables need to feature easily detachable and cleanable accessories, explained Mark Wheeler, director of Supply Chain Solutions for Zebra Technologies, a vendor of data capture and automatic identification solutions. But in the busy world of warehouses post Covid-19, a well-designed wearable is right for the times, he added.
“Whether it’s a ring scanner, or a headset, or wrist-mount, from the onset, we have always designed these units so that anything that touches the person is easily detachable and personalizable,” said Wheeler.
Accessories like detachable trigger mounts for ring scanners, or the “soft good” mounts for wrist-mounted computers, can be kept and cleaned by worker. “We highly recommend to our customers that each employee be assigned their own accessories,” said Wheeler. “Individuals can clean those accessories as often as they’d like.”
Wheeler says Zebra continues to see healthy demand for wearables in warehousing. Some of that might be hygiene concern, but the key driver is likely the effectiveness of these devices in helping to rapidly process e-commerce orders. According to a forecast released in July by Technavio, the industrial wearables segment is poised to grow at compound annual growth rate of 35% from 2020 to 2024.
Industrial computing features can make a warehouse safer in other ways. These include device features that allow for collaborative text and voice sessions between co-workers. This would permit a virtual “team huddle” to replace fact-to-face talks, said Wheeler.
Zebra also has a feature that leverages Bluetooth radio capability in its industrial devices to allow for proximity monitoring of devices and users, with an alerting function when people get too close. Additionally, online training with the devices can substitute for physical training room sessions.
Managers can tweak workflows to minimize risks. With autonomous mobile computers (AMRs), for instance, a wearable could be used instead of having multiple workers touch a panel on a robot. Not only would that keep multiple workers from contacting the same touch screen on a bot, it could speed up processing during picks or scan verifications, says Wheeler. “AMRs are great at eliminating travel time, but with wearables, you can also optimize the dwell time at each location, too, and have the best of both worlds,” he added.