Every success story begins with an idea. This is also the case with ProGlove from Munich. With its smart glove scanners, the start-up has simplified the daily work of thousands of employees in factories worldwide. After the very beginning in our Manage and More program, the accelerator TechFounders has accompanied and supported the team and brought them together with the established company Festo for a cooperation. A look back at the success story.
It all started in Silicon Valley with a call for proposals from Intel. As part of the "Intel Make It Wearable Challenge," the company was looking for applications to bring a chipset for wearables to market. The four founders Thomas Kirchner, Paul Günther, Jonas Giradert and Alexander Grots developed a prototype. It was not foreseeable at the time that this would later become a barcode scanner in glove form. With their prototype, the founders nevertheless secured the third place and a total of 250,000 US dollars in prize money. The idea of the glove scanner, however, remained in their minds because it is based on the great effect of what appears to be only a minimal process optimization.
Conventional scan guns require factory employees to pick them up for each scan, perform the scan and then put them down again. This costs valuable seconds. Just how valuable these are is shown by a calculation example from automotive production: with 1,000 cars built per day in a plant and 1,000 scans per car, one million seconds are added up at the end of the day. This daily savings potential therefore amounts to more than 16,000 minutes. This is equivalent to more than 270 hours. However, ProGlove technology can save not just one second as in the above example, but up to four - in some environments even six - seconds per scan.
However, since factory employees wear work shoes, gowns and gloves as standard anyway, the idea of integrating work clothing into process optimization was obvious. The glove was quickly chosen and ProGlove was born.
Strong partners right from the start
The road to the finished prototype was fraught with challenges, recalls Thomas Kirchner:
The young company found help from TechFounders. The initiative of UnternehmerTUM, Europe's leading start-up and innovation center, brings together promising start-ups with international corporations, in this case Festo. "For our industry partners, we scout early-stage start-ups that provide interesting ways of thinking from which established corporations can also benefit. These then work together with the selected start-ups on new projects, develop innovative solutions further and share their expertise. This creates the symbiosis that is the hallmark of our accelerator program. The four founders of ProGlove were part of the very first batch back then," explains Miki Yokoyama, Managing Partner at TechFounders.
Thomas Kirchner adds: "At that time, it was particularly important for us to test directly with real customers with the help of TechFounders. What other company simply opens its doors and invites you to test? With Festo, we had found the perfect partner. Together, we were able to test, iterate and develop our product to production readiness." Meanwhile, ProGlove's wearable scanners are the smallest and lightest models on the market and are established in production at Festo.
A smart solution to a widespread problem
Barcode scanners are an integral part of industry, trade, logistics or manufacturing. This is because every item is controlled along the supply and value chains with the help of barcodes. However, traditional barcode scanners very quickly reach their limits. They also restrict the freedom of movement of employees, get lost or broken.
ProGlove has developed the MARK product family, the first intelligent glove scanners. The matchbox-sized devices are small, lightweight and ergonomic. Because the scanner is attached to the glove on the back of the hand, the hands remain free, gripping times are eliminated, and workers on the shop floor can concentrate on their actual job. The scanner itself can be triggered by thumb pressure. In addition, it is possible to receive immediate feedback as to whether the item has been scanned correctly. This not only significantly reduces scanning time, but also stress and potential errors.
"The digital era and Industry 4.0 are characterized by the prospect of connectivity, data, machines and technology. We believe that the digital transformation can only fully unfold its impact if it takes people with it. People will continue to play the decisive role despite automation and AI. That's why we want to support them in the best possible way with our solutions so that they remain the driving force behind Industry 4.0 and the digital transformation," says Kirchner, explaining the vision behind the ProGlove product family.
ProGlove on growth curve
ProGlove's technology and concept have now convinced many traditional companies such as Bosch, Volkswagen, DHL and Lufthansa Technik. The start-up has since grown and currently has around 200 employees at its branch offices in Munich, Chicago and Belgrade.
The product range has also expanded. In addition to the glove and barcode scanner, related software is in the works. ProGlove Insight is an advanced analytics platform that uses a bottom-up approach to contextualize data from operations and derive automated recommendations for action. It enables companies to react quickly to unforeseen events or optimize processes.
Furthermore, ProGlove plans to manufacture only the scanner cuff in the future, enabling companies to turn any glove into a ProGlove. This is because the index trigger cuff not only fits over a wide range of work gloves, but can also be worn completely without a glove. The latter is significant wherever finger freedom plays an important role.
ProGlove responded to numerous customer requests with the Connect Proximity app following the outbreak of the Corona pandemic. Proximity helps businesses comply with distance rules in production, distribution and logistics. Proximity can be used stand-alone on an Android device or connected to a barcode scanner. If the minimum distance is exceeded, a warning signal consisting of a combination of audio sound, optical LED light and haptic vibration signal becomes noticeable. This is particularly important in noisy work environments, where the likelihood of an audible signal being overheard due to noise levels is very high.
"If there's one thing I can advise start-ups participating in the TechFounders Accelerator Program, it's this: build, test, fail, learn, improve, and above all, let go. It's not about everything working out or being perfect right away. It's about testing and learning as much as possible. Also, start-up teams should not underestimate the value of strategically important contacts. TechFounders and UnternehmerTUM have a network that is unique in Germany and Europe," says Thomas Kirchner.