Cargo couture: selecting tailored, wearable tech for your collection

Functional fashion

Unlike haute couture of the runway, wearable tech seen in air cargo, manufacturing and logistics values functionality – both ergonomic and efficient – to support operations. High heels simply will not do. With this in mind, significant strides in developing wearable tech in the industry have been made over the past two decades, leading to immense benefits for air cargo and logistics.

While RF scanners have long been a mainstay in the DHL Supply Chain’s distribution centers since the 1990s, the company has developed the product over the past ten years to be hands-free. Now workers can wear the scanner on their wrist with a glove to scan barcodes of parcels, which frees up their hands for ergonomic functions like picking.

“This becomes especially useful when workers are picking a lot of cases that may be upwards of 10 or 20 pounds as you really need both hands,” DHL Supply Chain VP Solutions Design North America Adrian Kumar said. “You don’t want one of your hands with an RF gun in it.”

At some facilities, like its freight hub in Hanover-Langenhagen opened last June, DHL said it will use the glove scanners to make it easier for terminal staff to consolidate freight.

Studies by U.S.-based scanner glove manufacturer Zebra reported that independent and time motion studies of workers using glove scanners resulted in a 5% to 30% increase in user productivity, depending on application and environment. The company also found up to a 50% reduction in workers’ physical muscle effort when using scanner gloves, as compared to a legacy hand-held scanner for high volume scanning and picking.

The scanners on gloves are also getting smaller and lighter as the technology evolves. German-based glove scanner manufacturer ProGlove, which first began developing its products in Munich in 2016 and now has customers including Lufthansa, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Ford, Staples and IKEA, has reduced the weight of scanners in its products to 1.5 ounces, less than 10% of the overall weight of traditional pistol scanners.

Beyond freeing up employees’ hands, the device has progressed to support mobile use of the product.

Back when the integrator giant first leveraged the scanner technology in 1995 it was still tethered to a reader device, which would get caught in things, UPS VP of IT Robin Hensley explained. To resolve this issue, UPS developed the device to transfer data read by the scanner to their internal warehouse management system via Bluetooth and Wifi in its distribution centers where the product is used. The move set a precedent for functionality and today, most scanner gloves are wireless.

Many modern scanner gloves, like those produced by Zebra, also include real-time alert functions. This way, if a worker is loading a package into an incorrect vehicle for example, within a few seconds the scanner will emit an audible tone and visual message on its display unit to indicate to the worker an error has occurred. With real-time alerts, workers can fix problems at the source before they become downstream challenges.

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