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Smart and wearable personal protective equipment - Early product success could pave way for broader adoption

01 November 2019

In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about connected workers and smart and wearable products being the future of the personal and protective equipment (PPE) industry. This article by Sanjiv Bhaskar of Frost & Sullivan looks at some of the results from the company’s recent research into this sector and highlights possible future trends.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

The development of innovative wearable products, evolving end-user industries, rapid adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) and related technologies are some of the key factors driving critical investment in next-generation PPE products and solutions. However, the real game-changer will be products that have the potential to transform workers’ environments through advanced situation awareness. These products will have real-time direct communication capabilities to mitigate risk and avert life-threatening accidents.

Frost & Sullivan's survey, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Voice of the Customer Study 2017, indicated that nearly 75% of buyers were open to adopting smart and wearable products. Similarly, almost 70% of wearers of PPE were open to the adoption of smart and wearable products. This does indicate that the industry is ready for the adoption of smart and wearable technology if it meets their safety and financial goals.

Every Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) manager has the primary task of ensuring the safety of their workforce and compliance with mandated regulations and enforcement agencies. They also have to work within tight budgets. Any attempt to adopt smart and wearable PPE products will have to address key questions about cost, safety, compliance, employee and business productivity, automation and the impact on network security. The industry is also highly fragmented, competitive and price sensitive. Commoditization is prevalent at every product category level. These factors play a major part in hindering smart and wearable PPE product innovation, adoption and growth.

End-user industries where workers are exposed to hazardous environments are incubators for testing and adoption of smart and wearable products and technologies. Oil and gas, mining, and firefighting are some examples that are considered “high-value worker” industries. Due to workers' exposure to highly hazardous conditions, the adoption of technologies that can help reduce the risk of accidents and fatality is significantly greater.

Another important factor is the rapid development and deployment of IoT technology in everyday life. IoT products and devices have impacted our lives in many ways. Our recent research, 2019 Update-Total Internet of Things (IoT) device Forecast, 2017 – 2025, estimates that 67.7 billion IoT devices will be in use by 2024. Of these, almost 11 billion devices are likely to be for factory and industrial automation. Add to this the rapid deployment of 5G platforms, and growth could be significantly faster.

Larger companies and global corporations are pursuing the adoption of smart and wearable PPE products due to a favorable return on investment (ROI). Major benefits include higher productivity, reduced cost of workers' compensation insurance premiums, and lower medical treatment costs.

Frost & Sullivan’s 2016 study, “Wearables and Smart Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) Technologies for the Industrial Market,” highlighted several smart and wearable products. However, not all have advanced in the past three years. Some companies that have advanced in the marketplace have adopted a “systems approach,” and we believe this approach will find better traction in the coming years.

Companies that help in creating an ecosystem with the lowest cost and disruption and can show enhanced ROI will see better adoption in the coming years. Smart and wearable products can prevent accidents and protect workers, which could be a game-changer.
Companies offering their services to the high-risk industries include RealWear, Guardhat, Blackline Safety, Corvex, Kinetic, and Levitate Technologies. These companies attract clients in the oil and gas, mining, and manufacturing industries.

Guardhat is providing a lot more than a hardhat with embedded sensors. It offers a full end-to-end situational awareness system that utilizes its own KYRA platform. Its solution goes beyond its hardware and integrates with any connectable sensor and with a variety of third-party platforms, making it easy to implement solutions for its clients and integrate with Industry 4.0.

Blackline Safety has developed multi-gas detection equipment with 3G wireless and two-way speakerphone, thereby connecting workers with a live monitoring team. Its devices offer inbuilt cellular and satellite connectivity, allowing two-way communication. Its G7c takes a fraction of the time required for a regular gas detector to help in evacuation of workers exposed to hazardous gases. This time lag can be the difference between life and death for a worker.

RealWear is offering HMT-1 and HMT-1Z1 wearable Android tablets for use in almost any industry. These products, in conjunction with its cloud-based Foresight platform, offer a hands-free, voice-activated platform with 95% accuracy, even in environments with high ambient noise. The company is finding increasing acceptance in the market for its offerings.

These are a few examples, and their success could lead the way for wider adoption of similar products and technologies. Nevertheless, the industry is experiencing rapid change, and the next three to five years will be critical as solution cost reductions and better ROI for end-user industries transform the smart and wearable PPE sector.

About the author

Sanjiv Bhaskar is Vice President of Research, Visionary Science Practice, at Frost & Sullivan. He has been with the company for 20 years and previous positions have included Global Director - Personal Protective Equipment Markets and Director - Environmental and Building Technologies Practice. His expertise includes extensive knowledge of PPE, wearable technology, industrial safety, occupational health & safety, and smart working practice and technology.

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