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XPO Pilots Wearable Tech Ahead of Holiday Fulfillment Crunch

XPO Logistics has completed a successful pilot of a wearable barcode scanner developed by ProGlove, Inc. that aims to speed up the inventory picking process in warehouses and ensure picking accuracy. The transportation and logistics solutions provider says the scanner saves six seconds per pick—improving picking speed by 10 percent—and reduces errors per million units picked by more than 75 percent.

The first pilot of the ProGlove Mark 2 was conducted over seven weeks at an XPO distribution center in Everett, Wash., using smart-glass headsets worn by employees during inventory picking. A second pilot will test the same scanner with handheld tablets.

As e-commerce fulfillment centers manage thousands of different product SKUs amid the start of the peak holiday season, warehouse employees are facing a crunch as shoppers shift their purchasing online. In fact, one Salesforce study said that up to 700 million packages face potential shipping delays throughout the season as orders are likely to exceed shipping capacity by 5 percent.

XPO Logistics, which operates in 30 countries, with 1,506 locations and approximately 96,000 employees, prepared for this onslaught when hiring 15,000 more employees in North America ahead of Nov. 15. Roughly 8,000 of those jobs will be in distribution centers.

With that in mind, tools to aid the warehousing processes, whether through robotics or wearable scanners like the ProGlove pilot, would likely make these employees’ jobs less stressful.

The intelligent scanner is worn on the back of the hand and can be paired with an augmented reality headset or other smart device, which displays real-time information about storage locations, product identifiers and inventory levels. The technology integrates with XPO’s warehouse management system and digital tools used in the order preparation process.

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The Mark 2 Standard Range model includes a battery life of up to 10,000 scans, and is designed for a scanning range of four to 32 inches.

The reported benefits of the scanner could potentially extend the overall efficiency of the warehouses using the technology by alerting managers about progress. Data from the ProGlove is assimilated into the suite of XPO Smart labor productivity tools, which provide managers with insights scaling from total facility output to the productivity of individual workers and teams.

The software analyzes three key drivers in combination: labor output, including gaps that need resolution; fast-moving inventory SKUs for optimal placement within the warehouse; and outbound production measured against on-time targets.

Every bit of time in the picking process matters, particularly in the high-demand holiday season. A recent merchant survey from Ware2Go, a UPS-founded on-demand fulfillment network and integrated tech platform, found that faster shipping is more effective in driving conversions than discounts, with 65 percent of merchants reporting an increase in e-commerce cart conversions of up to 25 percent when they offer a one-to-two-day delivery promise.

With faster shipping on top of free shipping becoming table stakes from a consumer perspective, the efficient movement (and tracking) of every item down to the individual SKU is paramount to success on the warehouse’s end.

Beyond the ProGlove’s quantitative benefits, the scanner also is designed to support employee health and safety by enabling workers to set social distancing alerts.

Social distancing has been a top concern among factory and distribution center workers, as it has been implemented to varying degrees from company to company and even from building to building.

Amazon, which has put billions toward implementing Covid-19 preventative and safety measures, was perhaps the biggest subject of criticism early on in the pandemic as workers raised concerns that the company wasn’t doing enough to protect them from getting infected.

On Oct. 1, Amazon said it counted 19,816 confirmed or presumed Covid-19 cases across its front-line employees in the U.S. between March 1 and Sept. 19. There have been at least eight confirmed Amazon worker Covid-19 deaths this year.

XPO Logistics itself has been under fire from union employees, who allege they have inadequate access to PPE, in addition to a lack of basic cleaning and social distancing measures, among other indiscretions in recent years.

In the U.S., a national survey of XPO workers showed that 60 percent of respondents said they felt unsafe at work.

An XPO spokesperson told Sourcing Journal that the report repeated “wholly inaccurate allegations that have been entirely debunked.” The company’s website lists numerous precautions is has taken to help prioritize employee safety including implementing social distancing measures, offering two weeks of pandemic paid sick leave, free Covid-19 testing and additional cleaning measures inside its workplaces.