Škoda is preparing for the fourth industrial revolution, inaugurating the innovative Smart ProGlove into its facilities, says Alex Kreetzer.
The Czech car manufacturer is focusing on innovative future technology within its warehouses, introducing the Smart ProGlove to its workforce. Through the use of the ‘smart’ industrial glove, Škoda can facilitate and improve the work of its logistics operations which have contributed to the automaker’s success. In this digital age, manufacturers are having to integrate new technology like this into supply chain operations, from the factory floor to finished vehicle tracking and electronic proof of delivery. The innovation has already started to prove to Škoda that it is the ideal solution for series production and the company has been using it successfully since its introduction. The Smart ProGlove was developed in cooperation with the Workaround GmbH startup, an industrial wearable company based in Munich which is supported by the likes of Intel, GETTYLAB and Bayern Kapital.
The Smart ProGlove has been designed to make day-to-day work easier and quicker for Škoda’s workforce, such as showing whether the right part is being used and whether production steps are being followed correctly. Its primary function operates much like an ordinary scanner that can capture and process data, however it allows the operator to do so in one simple action without any additional devices. By simplifying what most in the industry already perceive as a straightforward process, Škoda can now register products even more efficiently than before, and the automaker is already looking to further develop the software to gain a further advantage. This innovation has once again shown just how important every step of the supply chain is, no matter how big or small a part it plays. I speak to the head of Škoda Brand Logistics, Jiří Cee to find out how the Smart ProGlove is improving the automaker’s warehouse operations and the importance of future developments within warehouse technology.
“In order to be able to apply innovative solutions connected with Industry 4.0, cooperation with young start-up companies is unavoidable and so is following the trends,” says Cee. “ProGlove allows the employee to use both hands when picking parts, doing away with the necessity to put aside the scanner and pick it up again. The picking process was very effective even before we had implemented the ProGlove, and so there was just a minor increase in productivity. However, its main benefit for Škoda logistics is the ergonomic aspect of the tool. Such improvement is permanent and the employees are appreciative of the solution.” So far, Cee has found no issues with the smart glove though he assures me that, incase of any trouble, the facility is able to return back to the original process quickly. This is one area that automotive businesses are most skeptical of, as there needs to be a ‘failsafe’ to fall back on if anything goes wrong, such as a glitch or system error.
What impresses me the most however, is that the device is not an automated solution that has been developed to replace workers, which goes against the grain when you look at what is happening in this technology-driven era. Robots, although incredibly efficient, are taking valued jobs within the automotive industry and it is important that OEMs maintain their workforce by pursuing innovations and improving working conditions for employees, rather than replacing them entirely. Cee realises that there needs to be a balance: “Humans are key for us, which is why we are constantly trying to improve the working environment for them. The main benefit of this innovation is in the area of ergonomics. The employees are happy with the solution, and when the prototype was being tested, they were already asking when they would be able to start using it. It’s comfortable for them and they can focus fully on their performance.” By harmonising technology with its workforce, Škoda has achieved efficient warehouse logistics.
Instead of replacing the human process through robotisation, Škoda’s Smart ProGlove contains a scanner that, literally, ‘fits like a glove’ and is more comfortable than a traditional scanner for workers. Employees are able to scan barcodes on the product both horizontally and vertically, which significantly reduces turnover time through ease of use. Cee explains that once the product has been scanned and registered, the code is confirmed by pressing a switch located on the index finger of the glove. “Its accuracy is then confirmed acoustically or by vibration. Information on the accuracy is assessed by systems supporting picking,” he says. Through this simple process, the Smart ProGlove was easily integrated into Škoda’s existing systems, without having to spend too much time training its workforce, avoiding any delays that would have a significant impact on warehouse operations. “Implementing this technology is a relatively smooth and low-cost issue, exactly in keeping with our ‘Simply Clever’ philosophy,” explains Cee. Automakers cannot afford to have any delays at any point of the supply chain, so it is vital that the integration of the innovation is instant, taking over from the old process with no downtime. Employees at the facility were easily able to adopt the smart glove, thanks to its simple controls, and are full of praise for the innovation, according to Cee. “The employees have great praise for the solution; working with it is comfortable and it lets them focus on carrying out the work,” he claims. “We have trained them and they have a job instruction sheet at hand that they can look at any time. Controlling it is easy, that’s why we haven’t had any problems with it.” This depicts the importance of simplicity within supply chain technology, in order to create a system that is reliable, easy to adopt and simple to fix in the rare event that it malfunctions.
Cee tells me that Workaround GmbH is already in the process of developing the Smart ProGlove even further, alongside the Czech automaker: “Workaround GmbH is preparing another evolutionary step of the product, which will be usable for other kinds of operations, namely where an intervention and process modification by the operator will be possible.” With the update, a touch screen will also be incorporated into the Smart ProGlove, located on the operator’s wrist. Cee believes that the product could be available as early as next year, “as soon as it is available for testing,” showing that Škoda is constantly working on ways to improve its supply chain, from one end to the other. Every part of the supply chain must be optimised for success in the automotive industry, in order to reach a complete solution.