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The High-Tech Disconnect

The manufacturing industry is finally starting to see a rise in the adoption of industrial wearables.

Last week, I found myself grumbling publicly about the state of industrial technology. Well, not the technology itself, actually.

Every month, we receive an endless trove of tech submissions — new wearables and robots, new 3D printers and gadgets, all promising to save manufacturers time and effort. No, on the technology side, things are just fine. My beef was on the adoption side.

My premise was that, despite all of these new, amazing products, and despite all of their efficiency, ergonomic, and quality-boosting claims, they remain suspiciously absent from the plants I visit and from the strategic plans of the companies I cover.

My frustration with that disconnect, with that uncrossed chasm between problem and solution, finally boiled over and I let it all spill out.

NED’s senior editor, John Hitch, listened to those complaints quietly, nodding along with a kind of grin on his face. Looking back on it now, it was clear that he knew something I didn’t. Something big.

And here it is all laid out in his story, “Crowning Achievement: Smart Headset Rules the Industrial Wearable Market.” Hitch, it turns out, was sitting on his inside scoop about RealWear’s success with the HMT-1—about its 800 enterprise customers and 10,000 sales in little over 18 months.

In short, he had real evidence that the chasm is starting to close.

If this trend holds out, if industrial wearables finally catch on in the market, if RealWear is able to light a fire of investment for much needed worker productivity and process standardization, then my whole argument falls apart. And, more to the point, the manufacturing industry could stand to prosper.

As I see it, U.S. manufacturers still have a long way to go with smart manufacturing and the Industrial IoT. Strategies still need to be drafted, skilled workers still need to be hired, data integration still needs to become a priority, and processes still need to evolve.

But for most of the companies I talk to, a lot of the lowest fruit—access to at least some real-time production data—is already being picked. This alone makes ample room for a lot of the untapped solutions I was complaining about.

Taken as a microcosm, it seems this early RealWear success might mean this has finally begun.

Proof of that, however, comes down to the thesis of Hitch’s piece: the iPhone moment.

The nascency of the industrial smartglasses market has meant a wild array of innovations and concepts coming onto the market—from fixed eyepieces to flexible, from voice-activated to eye tracking, monocle or glasses, and every other conceivable iteration.

If Hitch is right, RealWear has found the formfactor and interface that (finally) actually fits the needs of the market. In which case, the effect could be as profound to the manufacturing industry as the switch from fliphone to iPhone was to the world.

It may be too early to tell if this is the case. But the implementations and sales numbers for the HMT-1 make a powerful argument. It’s enough, anyway, to convince me to shut my dumb mouth and just watch to see what happens next.

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