The helper on your wrist

Smart watches are growing increasingly attractive for use in industrial applications – whether as context-sensitive, wrist-worn assistants or as information aids for field staff.

With the trend towards “Industry 4.0”, otherwise known as the Digital Factory, tools are needed which are capable of creating a simple interface between the human worker and the manufacturing process. Some of the early applications indicate that smart watches have the potential to do just that. They can be used to monitor and control production processes and machinery in a simple way via an app. Another potential application for a smart watch is to provide alerts, such as when a critical system state is reached. Complex processes, especially, can be made more efficient through the use of wearable technologies in production. For BMW, digitisation opens up new prospects for the advancement of innovative, employee-oriented production systems. “In the long term, we will be implementing these developments to further modernise the work environment in our plants,” says BMW AG production director Oliver Zipse. “Digitisation will bring new levels of flexibility and efficiency to a number of processes, which will be of lasting benefit to our employees. In future, people working in production will shape their own work environments much more than they do today. And the reduction in physically strenuous work will also benefit employees.”

Support in production

Smart watches were trialled as context-sensitive assistance systems as part of a pilot project at the BMW Group’s plants in Munich and Leipzig. The aim is for them to support staff directly in their work, and to simplify complex processes. For example, an employee is alerted by the smart watch if a vehicle with non-standard requirements is approaching on the line. The illuminated display and a vibrating alert provide a reminder that a different number of bolts need to be fitted at the next work step, for example. Christian Dunckern, the BMW Group’s Head of Technical Planning, comments: “Digitisation is offering increasing opportunities to enhance our production systems on many levels. But not everything that is technically feasible actually makes sense to do. The key is to focus on the added value for the business, and the best person to do that is the employee who is actively and continuously involved in the production process.”

Time recording for field staff

Dutch company Exact has developed an app for Android Wear and the Apple Watch by which staff who are frequently on the road can keep a constant eye on the latest business data, through the Exact Online Cloud-based enterprise software. The user’s smart watch is connected to their smartphone, serving as a digital extension of it. This enables users to check company bank balances or outstanding customer or vendor account balances with a quick glance at their wrist. The system also features automatic time recording for field staff. A notification is sent to their smart watch as soon as they arrive at the customer. The message is generated by cross-checking GPS coordinates against the customer’s address logged in the system. Once the message is confirmed, time recording starts automatically. When the employee leaves the location, the app registers that the appointment has ended and the employee can terminate the time recording function. The data is stored automatically in the system, and is available seconds later for accurate time billing or other internal processing. Exact product manager Remco Kroes comments: “We are continually on the lookout for ways to simplify business processes and to innovate. We very much see wearables as playing a role in that. A smart watch can be useful for time recording in particular.”

(picture credits: BMW AG)

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