A robot taking a box off a warehouse shelf.
By Your Edge Contributor | May 08, 2019

The Bionic Worker

Automation to Enhance the Workforce

This blog post was written by guest contributor Rob DeStefano, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Ivanti:

Many warehouse and supply chain workers are anxious that ever-increasing levels of automation, caused by the rapid growth of eCommerce, will eventually squeeze them out of their jobs.  That is not the case! Automation will instead compensate for the labor shortage that the industry is currently facing by creating the “bionic worker”. This isn’t a title of a sci-fi movie, but instead refers to making an employee more efficient and productive through the use of wearable, mobile technology. My Ivanti colleagues have covered a bit of this before, and the discussion (and excitement) continues to grow.

Hands-free means speed 

Handheld mobile devices, including scanners and ruggedized tablets, have been essential to operating an effective warehouse for years, and this trend will continue to evolve as workers themselves become bionic. Wearable devices, such as headsets or smart watches, will let warehouse employees smoothly integrate technology with their work and take a more hands-on approach which drives productivity and enables workers to fully utilize the time they have to complete each of their tasks.

Connecting with technology in this way will allow employees to bring a level of automation to their own work. For example, taking advantage of voice enablement software or vision-picking means workers will be able to hear or see their optimal route around the warehouse without having to figure it out themselves or fiddle around trying to bring it up on a tablet. They will be able to move around the warehouse unhindered, with their eyes and hands free from distraction which will ultimately increase their productivity and speed. These devices can also inform workers how long it should take them to complete each of their tasks and provide a countdown to ensure they stay on track during their shifts – something that is crucial in a fast-paced warehouse environment. 

Safety first!

Looking after your employees is essential, and bionic technology can improve the safety of warehouse workers. Voice and vision-picking systems can prevent workers from having to complete the same repetitive movement throughout the day, meaning fewer staff members will suffer from repetitive strain-related injuries. This, not to mention the safety of workers who are navigating the warehouse with their eyes scanning for hazards rather than looking down at a device screen.

Wearable technologies are also being developed to support employees that take on more manual and physical roles. Exoskeletons are an example of this wearable expansion and one that carmaker Ford introduced into 15 of its factories last year. These suits are extremely useful for employees as they wrap around the body and assist when they are manually lifting or reaching overhead, and also aim to lower injuries from repetitive motion. Safety comes in many forms, and this example confirms wearables are playing a role in a number of use cases.

The bionic worker isn’t a future concept but something that is happening right now, fueled by modern technology innovations. What this shows is that with the current labor shortage, the industry doesn’t have to rely on robots. Supply chain employees should embrace technological innovations because automation can work to their advantage by combining the best of both worlds; the speed and accuracy of technology with the knowledge and creativity of people. 


Editor’s Note: Ivanti is an ISV in the Zebra® PartnerConnect Program and the Global Platinum Sponsor for Zebra’s 2019 APPFORUM Series, which kicks off in Europe in June. If you’re a Zebra customer or member of the Zebra developer or partner communities, make plans to attend one of these Enterprise IT and Software events, which feature both Thought Leadership and Development tracks:

  • June 4-6: Warsaw
  • August 13-14: Sydney, Australia
  • August 20-21: Beijing, China
  • October 1-2: Las Vegas, Nevada, US


About the Author: Rob has spent 20 years in the enterprise mobility space, with significant focus on mission-critical productivity. He has introduced several leading mobile operating systems into the rugged mobile computing market, dating back to Palm OS, through Pocket PC/Windows Mobile, and most recently, Android.  Rob has spent a significant portion of his career with leading mobile device manufacturers – long time partners to the Ivanti (formerly Wavelink) supply chain business.  He also spent several years as a consultant helping enterprises select and deploy mobility solutions in industries including retail, distribution, hospitality, government, and field service. Rob received his undergraduate degree from NYU and his MBA from Long Island University. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter: @Rob_DeStefano


The opinions expressed in the Your Edge blog are solely those of the original contributor and do not necessarily represent those of Zebra, Zebra’s employees, and/or any other blog contributor. Contributors do not receive compensation for their contributions.

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