As the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has become more ubiquitous, intelligent sensors have made everything from machine vision systems to conveyor belts into sources of valuable data for upstream analytics. Soon, those sensors could find their way onto workers themselves. Already, wearable technology is a fast-burgeoning field that is not to be neglected. Augmented reality (AR) headsets have allowed field service professionals working in dangerous conditions to access hands-free schematics, instruction manuals, and even real-time audio-video feeds for remote assistance from potentially distant subject matter experts. Now, new types of wearables are allowing end-users to generate useful data insights as well. What’s more, the collaboration they foster between operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) professionals is helping to bridge the OT-IT divide.
Food, beverage, and snack company PepsiCo, which recently outfitted its workers with wearable technology provider Kinetic’s Reflex devices, has seen those benefits clearly. The Reflex device is a belt-mounted wearable sensor that can automatically detect when a worker is assuming high-risk postures such as bending, overreaching, or twisting that may lead to repetitive strain injuries while on the job. From here, the actions taken are two-fold. First, workers receive real-time feedback via a gentle vibration which alerts them that they have assumed a high-risk posture, helping them to adjust their behavior. After that, the data is shipped upstream to a cloud-based web dashboard that can be used by management to produce actionable insights on how to improve workplace ergonomics.
Not only does this help to improve the health of workers by averting injuries, but it saves PepsiCo money by reducing worker compensation costs related to repetitive strain and other workplace related impairments. According to Kinetic, claim costs can be reduced by up to 54% by using the Reflex device.
“At a company like PepsiCo, there’s a lot of lifting and a lot of manual handling of materials—twisting, turning, and high-risk postures. We’ve always tried to do ergonomic work to improve conditions as much as we could, but there was always something missing—a behavioral element,” said Cormac Gilligan, global vice president of environment, health, and safety at PepsiCo. “We never really tapped into that to create a sense of ownership in the mind of the individual employee and help them to behave and move in a different way. The impact [Kinetic’s wearables] have had in that regard has been massive.”
Moreover, Kinetic’s Reflex wearable has brought PepsiCo other benefits beyond labor optimization and cost-cutting. In addition, the devices have facilitated greater interaction between OT and IT personnel, which Gilligan said has made a meaningful difference in PepsiCo’s company culture.
In many cases, employees have been more willing to make changes to their behavior when they are receiving and acting on data insights themselves, rather than merely taking instructions from supervisors. Beyond that, the role of OT personnel in producing data has granted them a larger role in discussions on how to improve workplace ergonomics.
“It started off for us as a way of simply trying to eliminate ergonomic risks that drive our worker compensation costs, but it’s become more of an employee engagement exercise. They like the device, and they want to wear the device. This allows us to engage with the employees in a way we haven’t before,” Gilligan said. “The employees are having conversations with us that are helping us to understand why, at a particular time or in a particular place, they have to adopt a high-risk posture, which helps us to redesign the work area or process. We were telling them what to do, and now they’re telling us what to do—that’s extremely powerful.”