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PPE as Part of the Connected Worker Ecosystem
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In the universe of safety and protection, the concept of smart personal protective equipment (PPE) is an exciting opportunity that has the potential, in time, to reshape the future of PPE.
However, companies to date have struggled to gain traction in the market. PPE is often thought of as a low-cost investment, and buyers struggle to understand the benefits of a smart product that costs many times more.
For that reason, there has been a divergence in recent years, with smart technology being sold to end-users as a separate entity, rather than something integrated within PPE.
In 2018, Frost & Sullivan saw a major upturn in interest in smart PPE, from a number of perspectives. External factors that are enabling an improved outlook for smart PPE include:
• wider digital transformation trends such as Industry 4.0 in the end-markets for PPE, increasing each industry’s awareness of the potential benefits of data
• interest from the insurance industry, which is beginning to see workplace safety as an area to repeat the successes being achieved in integrating smart technology into vehicle insurance and home insurance
This presentation incorporates Frost & Sullivan’s latest thinking on smart PPE, based on multiple pieces of research through 2018 and 2019.
There are a number of potential definitions of what “Smart PPE” encompasses, depending on the combination of 3 factors as shown here.
The specific opportunities will be different in each of the areas of this graphic.
• Several products marketed as smart PPE have little “safety” functionality, such as glasses with AR that are used primarily for job productivity (not safety) benefits
• Much of the added safety benefits provided by smart tech will likely come from distinct devices, rather than tech that has been integrated into a traditional piece of PPE. Nevertheless, they might be attached to a jacket for example.
Companies are still uncertain about whether it is better to integrate smart functionality into the PPE, or to have it as a distinct gadget.
Smart PPE exists at the point where safety, wearability and smart technology converge. In this context, “wearable” literally means something one wears. Some industry participants use the word to mean “wearable tech”.
The Smart PPE market could more formally differentiate into two distinct themes:
• Smart = reacting to the environment, intervening without the worker having to. (More developed as a concept - this is using smart tech to enhance the safety performance of PPE. Several “intelligent” safety solutions exist that do not rely on electronics.)
• Smart = associated with IOT / digital workplaces, data, communication etc. (Not yet as well developed as a concept, but broader in scope as it takes PPE into the realm of the “connected worker”. There is a long road to travel on data privacy and data security. There are more challenges, but companies are working hard to find solutions.)
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