Why wearables are an important piece for Industry 4.0

Executive Summary

Industry 4.0 opens a new era of productivity leaps through an unprecedent amount of data along the entire supply chain. Over the last couple of years, companies have made a great effort to prepare themselves for industry 4.0. While some companies are already harvesting productivity gains, other companies are still at an earlier maturity stage regarding their industry 4.0 capabilities.

However, many companies share one similarity: their industry 4.0 efforts are very much focused around connecting machines and optimizing machine-driven processes. But as the human workforce is and will be an integral part of future supply chains, connecting the human workforce is essential to leverage the full potential of industry 4.0 – wearables contribute to opening the black box around manual processes.

Data privacy implications need to be carefully considered…

when thinking about your wearables strategy in the context of industry 4.0 as data privacy concerns are one of the reasons why many companies back off introducing such. Data privacy concerns take up much of the space in the discussion around wearables, and their benefits like increased health & safety for the human workforce are often overlain.

Wearables’ benefits should lead the narrative in the discussion to realize a win-win situation for workers and companies – increased health & safety for workers and more transparency in manual processes along the supply chain for better decision making for corporates.

What is the adoption of wearables for industrial applications?

Wearables are now common in sports teams to optimize the team’s performance, but they are not common in corporates. As gaming wearables matured and entered the mass market, device and software suppliers began investing more in wearables and prices came down. This made and is making adoption by industrial companies more attractive.In roughly 2014, wearables were first used in industry to augment reality through glasses that provide additional information to wearers, for instance about the task they are doing.

Today, different industries are at different stages in adopting wearables. Retail and automotive, for instance, where employees must pick stock and scan tags, are more advanced than others. Companies are using augmented reality for vision and voice-guided picking. Workers receive instructions via glasses, which allows them to keep their hands free for picking. However, most use cases today are still focused on extending workers’ capabilities rather than capturing process-related parameters, often due to concerns about privacy and workers’ rights.

68% of workers would adopt wearables if…

A 2019 survey of 50 leaders and workers in perse industries conducted by WearHealth,  showed that 68 percent of workers would adopt wearables if there is added value for health and safety, and if data privacy is not compromised.


Why wearables are an important piece for Safety 4.0 and Industry 4.0?

When most companies talk about Industry 4.0, they’re laser-focused on the technology:machines that communicate, automated guided vehicles (AGVs), and robots are among the favoured topics. Yet workers will continue to play a critical role in the future of production, and equipping workers with wearable technology will be an important part of creating an end-to-end digital supply chain.

At the same time, it is people with the adoption of safety 4.0 who can benefit from safer working environments with technologies such as wearables. Used in combination, people with wearables and automating technologies can help companies achieve data-driven visibility in the supply chain, improve productivity and make the working environment safer. Due to worries about privacy and workers’ rights, we have observed that workers (e.g. shop floor, field service) using wearables, such as smart belts, smart boots and smart shirts, are often a missing part of companies’ Industry 4.0 plans. This keeps Industry 4.0 from reaching its full potential.

Worker Safety 4.0


The scenario for the future is win-win for both workers and supply chains:

As more and different types of health and safety-related data become readily available, health and safety will improve, and hidden risks will become visible. At the same time, the new data can be used to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the supply chain. In other words, the current focus of wearables on health and safety is leading to more effective supply chains. Although the telephone is actually a wearable, wearables such as arm bands that are affixed to the human body became popular in sports, fitness and health, with the rise of devices that collect information to help users perform better.

Source: ”Why wearables are an important piece of the puzzle for Industry 4.0”; AT Kearney (Dr. Marc Lakner & Arndt Heinrich) & WearHealth (Dr. Esteban Bayro-Kaiser & Diego Soliño); 2019.