On Factory Floors, a Chime and Flashing Light to Maintain Distance

Berlin – The 2019-20 National Basketball Association season was suspended for more than 140 days after being tested positive for coronavirus. But once it resumed in late July, no other players tested positive.

The league was able to eject the virus by requiring teams to live and play in a separate area known as Bubble at the closed Disney World resort in Florida.

But a small piece of technology also played a role: a wristband that players, coaches and coaches could wear off the court, and required Journalists covering teams. A small digital chip in the band amplifies social light by issuing a warning – by light and sound – when the wearer is close to each other for a very long time. The band has been picked up by the National Football League, the Pacific-12 College Football Conference and other sports leagues around the world.

Munich is happy with the hype to help prevent top athletes from catching the virus, such as devices, behind the NBA’s wristbands, the Kinexan. Raise privacy concerns. It is now looking forward to extensive arenas: factory production lines, warehouses and logistics centers where millions continue to operate despite the epidemic.

One of the companies working with Kinexen is Henkel, a global industrial and domestic chemical manufacturer based in Germany. A senior manager at Henrell, Wolfgang Weber, said that when the coronovirus infected about a dozen workers at Henkel’s plant in Serbia last spring, the two-week shutdown cost millions of dollars.

Henkel was already testing an older version of Kinexon’s wearable technology, designed to prevent collisions between forklifts and workers on high-traffic factory floors. The system’s sensors would automatically stop a forklift if it became too close to a worker.

After the outbreak at the Serbian plant and within weeks of the first wave of pandemic lockdown, Kinexan offered Hensel the opportunity to test a variation of that technology called Safezone. Its half-ounce sensor, worn like a watch on the wrist or on a lanyard or on a badge, gives a chime and shines when another sensor is within a set distance for a set period of time. Henkel agreed to try it.

Testing devices in real life was important to Kinexan.

Oliver Trivera, who co-founded Kinexan in 2012, said the key to this was not only to have the technology working in the lab – it was important now that the technology should be able to reach people. Its director, “be it on the factory floor or on the sports pitch.”

Henkel tested on the entire staff of his plant a large facility in the southern part of a medieval coal town in Rachiborz, Poland, where 250 people work in three shifts a day and packaging powder and liquid detergents for Central Europe Huh.

The sensor was programmed to turn off when two people were within 1.5 meters, about five feet, for more than five seconds of each other.

Sensors measure distances using ultra-broadband signals, which Kinexon says are more accurate and use far less energy than Bluetooth signals, a second technique often found in coronovirus tracing apps.

Mirella Zielinska, who has worked at the Rabizoz plant for five years, said she quickly got used to wearing the device on her wrist. He said that in a fast-moving production line where one is packing a duty detergent, it reminds him to keep his distance, he said.

“At first we were probably a little worried, but now it looks so normal,” Ms. Zielinska said in a Skype interview while sitting in an office at the plant.

This is to say that the unexpected never happens sometimes. The sensor detects distance through the bathroom stall dividers, for example, triggering the alarm at an undesired time. And during the interview, a colleague of Ms. Zielinska shook her head in the office, wondering what she was doing. Both beepers descended before she could answer.

Workers wear sensors throughout the shift, reminding them to keep their distance even during lunch in the canteen.

The plant’s manager, Adrian Visic, compared the sensor censors to alerts in cars when people have not applied their seatbelt. “This eventually changes behavior in drivers,” he said, noting that he has seen a marked improvement in workers while keeping a safe distance.

The system stores, for several weeks, information on when a worker was near other workers – a potentially useful tool for tracing conversations if a worker becomes infected, but one that is on a worker’s movements Raises concerns to take care of management, all making long-term changes.

Henkel said it only gave access to the data to some senior managers, and the company had distributed leaflets explaining to workers that the badge would never be used to track their movements. Data records that employees interacted with, not where the conversation occurred. Mr. Visik said Henkel vowed to get the information only when there was a need to detect an infection with coronavirus.

The German union that represents the Henkel activists declined to comment about the technology.

In the long run, Mr. Weber said, technology could also help Henkel to avoid shutting down some of its production processes.

Kinexon has sold the technology to several well-known German manufacturing and cargo companies – tire manufacturer Continental and logistics giant DB Schenker were early adopters. Kinexan said it had worked with American companies, but was contracted not to release his name.

In total, the company said, it is supplying the technology to more than 200 companies worldwide. It estimates that its badge has prevented 1.5 million contacts a day, a difficult number to confirm. The sensors are priced between $ 100 and $ 200 each.

A six-week trial at Rahiborz, during which no worker tested positive, persuaded Henkel to roll out the technology at its cleaning-chemical production sites over the next year. How many of the company’s 52,000 employees eventually wear the technology worldwide depends on how long the epidemic continues.

If the vaccines have been successful and the epidemic has been overcome this year, Mr. Weber said, he plans to reuse the sensor for his original intent: to avoid a confrontation between workers and forklifts. The fact that such schemes will require less badges than Henkel is not a concern.

“I would still say it’s a success,” he said.

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