The Promise of Wearable Tech in the Supply Chain

From safety to customer service, tech on the body is heating up.

From fitness trackers that alert truck drivers when it’s time to make a rest stop to rings that track and register inventory, wearable technology is already making its way into the supply chain. In fact, nearly a quarter of all warehouse and manufacturing firms use wearable technology to perform such mundane tasks as order processing, inventory routing and tracking, and warehouse management, according to Supply Chain 24/7.[1]

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Self-driving cars are already being road-tested. Drones are delivering packages to consumers’ doorsteps, and “smart glasses” could soon replace your tablet. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize wearable technology reshaping every link in the supply chain as advancements plug us all into the internet of things.

Here are four areas in which wearables could impact your business.

1. Efficiency. UPS deployed wearables to track packages across its system in 2011.[2] Instead of traditional hand-held scanners, workers wear rings that record bar codes, leaving their hands free to handle packages more quickly — and more accurately — than ever before. Apple is exploring glasses that could take tracking to the next level by enabling workers to record inventory with a flick of the eye.[3] And instead of having to run back to the computer to check an order, managers could call it up on a headset.

2. Worker safety. Today’s nearly ubiquitous fitness trackers measure an array of biometric feedback, including heart rate, respiration and blood pressure, sending that information to the wearer’s smartphone, tablet or computer. Imagine if companies could tell when a factory worker becomes fatigued or falls ill. Supervisors could intercede before an accident happens. Similarly, tired truck drivers have become an increasing concern on our roadways. Wearable technology could alert them and their dispatchers when it’s time to pull over.

3. Quality control. Sensors monitor every step of the manufacturing process, measuring speed and performance on the production line, tracking quality and heading off problems by alerting operators before a breakdown occurs. They can even keep track of maintenance schedules and monitor key production data.

4. Customer service. The most obvious benefit of deploying wearables is that they can track customer orders from beginning to end, ensuring that they are filled quickly and correctly. Less obvious — but potentially more important — is that technological advances could collect and analyze customer data on the fly. The more you know about your customers, the better you can personalize services to meet their needs, deepening each relationship.

Wearables are still an expensive investment, and apps tailored to the supply chain are few and far between. Remember, though, that the iPhone appeared on the scene just 10 years ago. It may not take long for wearables to move from the trendy consumer market to becoming essential business tools.


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