Smart PPE and IoT to improve workplace safety

With Covid-19, there is greater awareness of the importance of PPE (personal protection equipment). Manufacturers raced to produce PPE in high volumes to protect frontline healthcare workers. A perfect storm of increased demand for workplace health and safety measures, for PPE to address them and the maturity of Industry 4.0 and IoT-based technologies has accelerated the development of “Smart PPE” solutions.

What is Smart PPE?

PPE includes reinforced clothing, helmets, safety shoes, ear plugs and protective eyewear. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) says that “Smart PPE promises a higher level of protection and more comfort through the use of enhanced materials or electronics components”. It states that in most cases, Smart PPE combines traditional PPE with “electronics” in the form of components such as RF modules, sensors, detectors, data transfer modules, batteries. (source: OSHA.Europa.EU)

Market size

In May 2020, analysts Technavio expected growth in the global Smart PPE market to accelerate at a CAGR of over 11% from 2020-2024,  from a market valued at US$ 1.85 bn in 2019. They said that “The high costs of smart PPE will challenge the growth of the market participants”. The analysts identified five key Smart PPE end-user markets, namely the  firefighting, manufacturing, construction, oil & gas and mining industries.

Predictions for the growth in Smart PPE in the global healthcare market are not readily available. However, analysts ResearchandMarkets estimate that the global healthcare PPE market will be worth US$ 11 bn in 2027. This gives a sense of its potential for Smart PPE.

Industry 4.0 technologies drive Smart PPE development

The technologies that underpin Industry 4.0 including low-powered IoT sensors, sophisticated wireless connectivity, Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, cloud computing and edge computing can be applied to handle Covid-19 and the new workplace constraints that it imposes. These constraints require managing workplace issues including social distancing in the workplace; shift working so that there are reduced numbers of workers using shared facilities for lunch and breaks; enabling employees to work from home by remote access and the wearing of PPE including masks in the appropriate workspaces. (source: IM-Mining)

Smart PPE & wearables

Smart PPE can be embedded in wearables in multiple forms. You can have a sensor equipped with a light, a buzzer and/or a vibration alert you to the fact that you are too close to a colleague via a tag integrated into protective clothing, a hard hat or a wristband.

Through wireless connectivity, the tag could be used by management for the geo-positioning and geo-fencing for employees and industrial equipment at rest or in motion.  Industry 4.0 technology can be applied to wearables to monitor employee body temperatures and alert the wearer to excessive temperatures which might require intervention such as drinking more liquids or resting in a cooler place to recover. These types of application need to be carefully managed to comply with personal data protection regulation such as GDPR in Europe.

Smart benefits

Smart PPE can improve workplace safety by reducing accidents and injuries, leading to greater productivity, efficiency and cost savings in the longer term.

Use cases

  • Face masks – A team at Northwestern University, USA, is developing Smart PPE face masks which use battery-free sensors to measure the proper fit and monitor the wearer’s health. (source: The Engineer)
  • Gas mask – 3M Scott Fire & Safety has developed the firefighting industry’s first in-mask, hands-free thermal imaging solution. This helps firemen locate people trapped in fires and rescue them more quickly. (source: 3M)
  • Connected shoes – PPE manufacturer Intellinium has designed Smart PPE shoes. They include the Smart Man-Down alert feature which detect when their wearer has fallen or is still for too long and vibrate to give the wearer a way to cancel the alert. If the user doesn’t answer the warning, an alert is automatically sent to colleagues. (source: Intellinium)
  • Body heat sensor system – Kenzen has invented a Smart PPE patch which monitors physiological signs to prevent injury through excessive heat. It alerts wearers and their colleagues when their core body temperature is too high and a safety intervention is needed. (source: TDWorld)
  • Smart Hard Hats – LA-based WorkerSense has embedded microchips into construction workers' hard hats that track their social distancing and send alerts when they get closer than 2m to each other. Crew members are ranked for their social distancing abilities and can obtain bonuses for top scores. (source: La)

The future

In an Ohsonline article, Kevin Mitchell, a highly experienced designer of PPE and rugged industrial equipment says that “Having the appropriate PPE to do their jobs in safety and comfort is a necessity for all workers. … Better and smarter PPE could be created that goes beyond keeping our essential workers safe but also enhances their abilities.”

Insight SiP RF modules for Smart PPE

Insight SiP works with clients across a range of industries to help them with their choice of RF modules to enable wireless connectivity for their Smart PPE applications.

Insight SiP ISP3010 RF module with integrated BLE and Ultra-Wide Band precise distance measurement

This module is favoured by Smart PPE manufacturers seeking highly precise measuring capabilities to an accuracy of within a few centimetres for their Smart PPE applications. This module combines integrated BLE and Ultra Wide Band (UWB) radios. It offers the precise positioning capabilities of UWB, combined with the high-throughput flexible service of BLE for a more local connection that can be used to carry out configuration, commissioning and update via smartphone or tablet applications – details.

The ISP3010 is the ultra-miniature RF module at the core of our Security Bubble Covid-19. The small "Security Bubble Covid-19" wearable device takes the form of an electronic tag. In a given space, each person, equipped with a tag, generates an individual invisible "Security Bubble" to help them keep their physical distancing. The device can be programmed to meet social distancing recommendations from 1m to 2m or other distances to avoid contagion. When the Security Bubbles come too close to each other, they collide and an alarm alerts the wearers of the devices.

The Bubbles can be used on a continuous basis for between 24 and 48 hours and are easily rechargeable and can easily be integrated into many PPE products such as portable identification tags, bracelets, security equipment, clothing, hard hats for construction, ...

For more information on our Security Bubble Covid-19, click on this link.

Insight SiP ISP15/18/19 family of ultra-miniature RF modules

These modules are well-suited to providing wireless communications between small connected IoT devices used in Smart PPE applications which require Bluetooth 5/BLE without additional radio connectivity. At 8 x 8 x 1 mm, the ISP15/18/19 series offers a miniature solution, huge computing capability coupled with best-in-class battery life, with power consumption around 20-50% lower than previous generations of technology, making this Bluetooth Low Energy / BLE module a ready to use solution for most IOT applications. The BLE range offers a variety of price/performance trade offs, and these devices can form the heart of a wearable monitoring solution, and connect to a smartphone for sending data to the cloud. – details

Insight SiP ISP4520 Combined LoRa/BLE modules

This module (with variants to meet regulations in the US, Europe and Asia) combines Long Range LoRa capability with high speed short range Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity. The BLE allows easy software updates and short range communication and device commissioning via a smartphone or tablet. The LoRa offers Long Range communication capability. This device could be used as centre of the kind of solutions described above for monitoring health, well-being or position of worker, with the added benefit of long range LoRa radio for central updating. This could be particularly valuable in remote or awkward environments where cellular connectivity cannot be guaranteed; the licence free LoRa radio allows for the easy installation of local gateways. – details


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