Sensor sleeves monitor workplace activity

A new device measures the individual motions of workers on the assembly line, allowing researchers to eliminate wasted seconds.

In an attempt to further narrow the gap between man and machine, German tech company Fraunhofer has created a device that will measure the movements of industrial workers down to the second.

Industrial manufacturers can use the device, a sleeve equipped with tiny sensors, to analyze each individual movement during assembly and ensure that not a moment is wasted. With data from sleeve movements, manufacturers should be able to minimize “impractically located components” or “overly frequent tool changes.” In other words, with a few tweaks to the manufacturing process, workers can essentially become well-oiled machines.

“The present stopwatch method only allows a process organizer to time five individuals simultaneously, depending on the situation,” said Martin Woitag, research manager at the Fraunhofer IFF in a press release. “Our solution makes it possible to record time simultaneously, even at several workplaces, without requiring additional labor. The system’s greater precision and objectivity is crucial.”

Inside the sleeve are three matchbox-sized sensors, each designed to record hand and arm movements from start to finish. Actions such as reaching, grasping, joining and releasing can all be differentiated.

Once the manual labor is done, a PC application completes the process by calculating and reconstructing motion sequences based on the sensor data from the sleeve. Each process is then broken down into segments and relative time is established, allowing researchers to shave off the more superfluous of motions from workers’ routines.

Pinpointing workers’ exact movements may be a crucial step in maximizing efficiency, but it could also be seen as a burden for employees who simply need a break every now and then. Wasted seconds, like cotton mills and mule-drawn plows, may simply be a thing of the past.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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