Wearable technology on the factory floor – Today and in the future

Interview with Björn Weigel, Chairman of the Board, Bioservo Technologies AB


Wearables like smartwaches or exoskeletons can be used in many different areas, like for example on the factory floor. Björn Weigel explains the opportunities that wearable technology is offering and the challenges lying ahead in his speech "The future of wearable technology on the factory floor" at MEDICA CONNECTED HEALTHCARE FORUM.

Beforehand, MEDICA-tradefair.com talked to him about the usage of wearable technology on the factory floor – today and in the future.

Image: Man with blue eyes; Copyright: Bioservo Technologies AB

Björn Weigel gives a speech about "The future of wearable technology on the factory floor”; © Bioservo Technolgies AB

What kind of wearable technology does exist right now?

Björn Weigel: Bioservo categorizes wearable technology into "traditional" wearable technology, like smart watches or smartphones and robotic wearable technology (for instance hard exoskeleton). The Bioservo SEM Glove™ with its unique capabilities and technology is positioned between these two and labeled soft exoskeleton. Soft exoskeletons are human centric, meaning the wearer is in full control of the device that is light and seamlessly follows the movement of the human body.

Which of these wearable technology is usable at the factory floor?

Weigel: The SEM Glove™, for example, helps to prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) and repetitive stress injuries. It supports the user when repeatedly executing a task or when extra force is needed. That strikes at the center of what is important for manufacturers.

On a more general note, suppliers must not only consider technical issues, but also other criteria like costs or legal demands. If a devise for instance is too expensive it will not be "usable" for the industry regardless of how technically advanced it might be.

How much wearable technology is used right now on the factory floor?

Weigel: The usage of wearable technology is still in its infancy, but we believe the market could expand rapidly for three reasons: First, ergonomics has become financially significant. Companies appreciate that they can save substantial amounts of money by keeping experienced employees fit at work. Secondly, the human-machine-relationship will continue to mature and increase demand for wearable technology. The third reason is the aging population. Skilled labor is becoming a scarce resource; therefore, companies must find ways to sustain workers with for instance wearable technology.

Image: Björn Weigel at stage; Copyright: beta-web/Lormis

Björn Weigel speaks about wearables in the medicine at MEDICA 2016; © beta-web/Lormis

Where lies the future of wearable technology on the factory floor? What future wearable technology will be used? 

Weigel: Technically, the future could bring significant optimization between humans and machines. In the manufacturing process for instance technology could be added to fulfill tasks without compromising worker’s health and/or safety. Both soft and hard exoskeletons are ideal for this.

However, the jury is still out when it comes to factors beside the technology; factors that have a huge impact on scalability of wearable technology within industries and the rest of society. Regulators for instance play a crucial part, if they decide to make the path for new wearable technologies smooth removing legal obstacles and uncertainties, it would attract new investors and speed up the development of new wearable technologies for the factory floor. But if they go in the opposite direction, we could well see a slower development. Unfortunately, the trend with regulators and new technologies was not always that positive in the past – referring to new technologies in general, not specifically wearable technologies. Regulators often tend to favor incumbents and that slows down diffusion of new technologies within businesses and society.

A date to remember:

Björn Weigel, "The future of wearable technology on the factory floor"
Monday, 14 November 2016, 11.20-11.40 a.m.

The interview was conducted by Olga Wart.