Wearable computing in manufacturing and logistics. New forms of work in the era of digitalization

Main content

Wearable computing (internet-of-things applications worn on the body, e.g. smart watches, smart textiles or data glasses) is increasingly used as an element of Industrie 4.0 concepts. As the introduction of wearables in the workplace does not require huge investment, we can expect a very fast diffusion of this technology. Its impact on work is however hardly explored so far. Wearable computing can go along with very different concepts of work: on the one hand, interconnected wearables can provide very flexible, situational information to the employees and can be used to upgrade work contents and skills. On the other hand, they permanently record data on performance and execution of work and can be an instrument of standardization and control.

Against this background, the research project examines two key questions:

1. Which goals regarding the restructuring of the work process do companies pursue when introducing wearable computing?

2. How do different forms of using wearables in the workplace affect the quality of work?

We expect that the impact of the application of wearables in the work process will depend, in particular, on four factors: the goals of the relevant actors (solution providers/ startups, planning, works council, employees…), the introduction process and in particular the extent of involvement of employee representatives, the production systems of the companies as well as employees´ life-world experiences with wearables (especially younger employees use wearables privately and partly bring them to work).

The research design is exploratory and includes (1) desktop research on the typology, application areas and distribution of wearables (potential and dissemination analysis); (2) qualitative expert interviews with technology developers and startups for wearables and big data applications (model analysis); (3) case studies in companies with typical applications (deployment and design analysis); (4) quantitative online survey of employees who use wearable in the workplace (employee analysis).

The project is conducted in cooperation with prof. Sabine Pfeiffer (University of Hohenheim).

Maren Evers