The Internet of Things is the name used to describe the space of possibilities that makes intelligent devices usable, in which physical objects can be connected to the virtual world. The fact that sophisticated tools or elaborate machines can be optimised in their process chains this way provides exciting new perspectives for product design. Industrial designer Hans Hochkeppel, who was involved in the idea for ProGlove from the very beginning, recognised in it the possibility of creating holistic and sustainable user experiences.
DESIGN AT HIGH-PERFORMANCE SPORTS LEVEL
Good design is innovative, subtle and consistent down to the very last detail – this is how the iconic Dieter Rams once manifested his timeless design principles. The former start-up ProGlove was founded on similar values: their industrial designers sought to significantly simplify the work of employees performing hard physical labour with user-friendly wearables. And they came up with a versatile product portfolio that, thanks to the world's smallest and lightest barcode scanners, can be integrated into the work environment with great effectiveness.
Perfectly integrated into everyday life
Hochkeppel himself describes the smart industry wearable quite plainly as a tool that simplifies assembly line work or processes in logistics or production. »You can use it to scan the QR code on an airbag, for example, to make sure this critical part has really been incorporated,« he explains. »Our wearable is designed ergonomically, so it can be worn comfortably for a long time. It replaces the big bulky scan guns, and since it' a handy little box, it' even small enough to go missing quite often.« He laughs. »They integrate perfectly into the daily routine of an already stressful job,« he says, pointing out that this makes such a huge difference. Among their approximately 2,000 customers so far are many industry giants, high-performance cases where it's all about saving seconds. »If you scan several thousand times a day or pack boxes in chord, you appreciate every second you save.«
In his position as Director of Design & UX and passionate design thinker, he places great importance on putting the user first in every development process, a vision he has pursued since 2014. This vision has not changed since 2014. That year, the young team had won the so-called Intel Wearable Challenge, which had been called out by the company – at a time when Fitbit and the likes were trending, but the potential of such wearables for the manufacturing industry had not been fully realised yet. Winning the Intel Challenge prize allowed ProGlove to get off the ground.
»We wanted to develop something that supported worker health and was tailored to the industry, which is all about efficiency,« says Hochkeppel, who, as a graduate of Munich University, found the city to be an adequate location. Meanwhile, he no longer describes ProGlove as a start-up but as a company in the scale-up phase: with a broad base of about 250 employees at three locations – Munich-Sendling, Belgrade and Chicago – as well as a sales network in the USA and increasingly in the Asian-Pacific region.
Iterative design processes close to the user
The product portfolio has also grown: various price classes for different applications, sometimes with a display, sometimes optimised for particularly robust industrial applications. »We are taking it to the next level, like with a fitness tracker that collects data. The Analytics data can also provide the supervisors with information on how far apart two assembly parts are in order to optimise the walkways. For this purpose, we have developed the software solution called Insights; in addition, a lot of useful information can be generated via sensors and a camera integrated in the scanner«. Hans Hochkeppel describes an application that could measure the distances between devices during the Corona pandemic and emitted a signal when the distance was less than 1.5 metres. He says this was particularly useful in the limited space conditions of many warehouses and production facilities.
»Our challenge in the design team is that we do both hardware and software, and the ergonomics of the wearables have to be perfect. We can't ruin anyone's hand,« Hochkeppel says. »Our tools are for real pros who notice immediately if a model is no good. Where a hand movement is very repetitive, the tool has to be as high-end as a sports gear, at the level of an ultra-runner. That's why our design process is close to the user and very iterative.«
But being close to the users isn't the only reason for him to enjoy working there. He also raves about the workshop with a view of the Alps, where different 3D printers including SLS printers are available and everything from hardware to textiles is produced in-house. An honest, practical design that uses all the benefits of the Internet of Things for itself and yet never leaves the human being out of the equation. Dieter Rams would be proud.
The conversation with ProGlove was conducted by Sonja Pham for the online MAGAZINE of mcbw 2022.