The aim of the Work-by-inclusion project is to integrate persons with impaired hearing into warehousing logistics operations. In the project, the workers involved receive important information via smart glasses. The system also permits communication between employees with and without a hearing disability.
Around 80,000 deaf and 140,000 hard-of-hearing persons who are dependent upon sign language interpreters live in Germany. According to data from the Federal Office of Statistics, around 10,000 jobs in Germany are vacant that could be filled by persons with hearing impairments. The concept of Work-by-inclusion offers considerable potential for bringing skilled workers with severe disabilities into the primary labour market.
Schmaus GmbH, a specialist office supplies retailer with a total of 48 employees, has for many years attached particular importance to integrating people with disabilities into the workplace. Of its twelve employees with disabilities, six of whom are deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals reliant upon a sign-language interpreter, nine are employed in logistics. The Work-by-Inclusion research project was launched in conjunction with the Chair for Materials Handling, Material Flow, Logistics (fml) at Munich TU technical university and CIM GmbH, a company specializing in warehousing software. The aim of the project is to use smart glasses in order to involve deaf and hard-of-hearing persons fully in the operative processes of order picking (The project entitled “Development of visual work aids for deaf persons working in warehousing – Work-by-inclusion” is being sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) with resources from the compensation fund under code 01KIVI141207).
The Work-by-Inclusion project takes up the pick-by-vision order picking technology developed at the fml Chair and applies it in practice. The essential information for an order-picking job is displayed in the trained employee's field of view by means of smart glasses. This assistive system can be used by order pickers irrespective of whether their hearing is impaired. All information is communicated visually, rather than acoustically. This represents modern and competitive technology for warehousing processes such as order picking, goods storage and goods transfer – in contrast to the conventional paper-based order-picking or job list, which is increasingly being eliminated in the course of digitalization.
Smart glasses enable messages to be sent and received and thus serve as a means of communication between all the employees, irrespective of their hearing ability. Warning messages (e.g. fire alarms) and general information (e.g. notice of a meeting in the canteen) are also displayed, as well as the work steps to be completed. Besides wearing the smart glasses, the order pickers also carry a manageable barcode scanner with which they can confirm performance of the individual work steps. The smart glasses can also be operated conveniently via this scanner.
The paperless digital information system guides the order pickers through the work process. This makes it impossible for a job step to be skipped by mistake. The error rate, and consequently corrective work with its high time and cost overhead, are reduced to a minimum. In addition, the employees have both hands free and are thus able to concentrate upon the core tasks of retrieving and depositing items.
The communications interface for the smart glasses is non-proprietary; data can be transmitted to the devices from any software platform. Consequently, the range of applications is not limited to order picking, but can be extended to other areas such as medicine or industrial assembly processes.
The experience of Schmaus GmbH is that a corporate philosophy geared to the successful inclusion of people with disabilities translates into high loyalty levels in the workforce, a positive workplace climate, and low employee fluctuation. The employees with hearing impairments compensate for the absent or reduced functionality of their hearing by exceptionally acute visual perception. They consequently perform their tasks particularly efficiently and to a high standard despite – or indeed because of – their disability. Work-by–inclusion thus enables companies to employ highly motivated individuals with disabilities and to counter the shortage of skilled personnel, which is already becoming evident.
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