Enhancement of safety and comfort of
worker with future workwear 

Egidija Rainosalo and Jari Isohanni (Centria University of Applied Sciences)

 

Safety and comfort at work are important factors to maintain workers physical and mental health, assure satisfaction with the employer and also to attract new and skillful staff to the company. Along with other solutions, personal workwear plays an important role in workers comfort and safety. Additionally, it is a visible element of company’s brand and carries the message about company’s management’s relation to the worker. The imago of a company is usually much higher if not only fashionable, but also comfortable and durable garment is used. Workers value more and more also some smart technological solution as part of their personal protection measure. 

Comfort  - improved fit and functional performance

Workwear users in chemical industry were asked to provide their opinion on the clothing they are wearing at work and asked to suggest adequate to their needs and wishes improvements. 50 workers of different sex and age were questioned. A lot of different suggestions were obtained about how to improve functionality of workwear by adding pockets for up to date smart devices, e.g. size of pocket for phone was mentioned to be too small, in some operations workwear needs to have more features to keep tools. The most of comments though, were given on the fit of the garment. Too long, or too short garment, too loose or too tight elbow and knee areas, crotch area is not comfortable, waist is too low or too high, women were not satisfied with unisex clothing and so on. Satisfaction with fit of the cloth was also dependent on the physical operations the worker is performing. Those answers indicate clear need for more customized models of workwear to ensure it is comfortably fitting to particular wearer’s body shape and work operations being performed. One model garment even in different sizes might not be enough. Wearers comfort can be ensured only with manufacturing clothing with tailored fit and incorporated with all of the operation sensitive functional features.    

Customization of garments and diversification of models is time and cost consuming task for workwear manufacturers. Fulfilling customer satisfaction in a costs efficient way is a key factor for the workwear industry to keep with competition against imports from cheap labor countries.

3D body scanning technology is suggested for speeding up the measurement of the body process. Customization could be performed through scanning employees and modeling the workwear to best fit the shape of body as well as workers function. 3D body scanner is capable of gathering 150 measures of the body in just 15 seconds time. Some overall  10 minutes are needed for preparation of person for scan and scanning. Scanning data can be automatically transformed to the model construction software and new garment can be created in reasonably short time.

Centria has scanned a group of 50 persons from chemical industry and compared scanning data with the size of the garment they wear. Surprisingly many garments were not adequate to the body dimensions. This indicated not only the need for re-design of garments, but also more emphasis on assisting wear in choosing the right size outfit.  Personal results of 3D body scan can be used to assist in choosing the right garment. 

Workwear as a platform for safety enhancement

New trend in clothing industry is incorporation of wearable electronics for specific purpose. Especially sports industry is well advanced in this sector. Centria interviewed workers at a chemical industry company to identify what kind of data workers would like to share with their employer and what functions the electronics incorporated into workwear should have. Some observations from the interviews:

-  workers, especially middle-aged and older don’t know what kind of solutions are available and only after presenting some examples, the discussion about the topic could be proceeded

-          physiological data including the wearer’s body temperature, pulse, blood oxygen level, breathing rate, heart condition, sugar level, etc. are interesting, but only for personal use

-          management of the industry would like to follow workers locations, time and quality of operations being performed better, however workers don’t like the idea of being watched all the time.  It is though expected to be unavoidable in the future as IoT will be able to connect all the elements of the factory into one holistic digital system, workers and the operations they perform being part of it. 

-          safety at work, related to external environmental factors were interesting for both management and workers. Therefore, advanced workwear could be used to alert worker in various danger situations.

-          the fewer different protective items to be remembered to take with when entering the working zone, the better, incorporation of possibly many solutions into one garment is found to be a good way to proceed. 

The conclusion from the interviews can be made, that workwear can become a platform for personal safety at work and it should incorporate possibly many relevant solutions, so that the safety is less dependent on the human factors as e.g. forgetting. 

 Health, Safety and wellbeing potential solutions to incorporate into workwear

  • Workwear gathering information on wearer’s location in emergency situations: indoor and outdoor
  •  Distance from the danger sources, e.g. moving vehicles, chemical spills, heat sources, etc.
  • Hazards in the environment: chemicals, dust, noise, electromagnetic radiation
  • Workload hazards: weight of load being lifted, knee impact, vibration level, torque
  • Illumination for lighting, warning, better visibility

Incorporation of electronics in workwear though has challenges related to maintenance of garment, but also in product manufacturing. The electronics should withstand numerous washing cycles at elevated temperature, should be compact, change of battery should be careless. Centria used 3D printer to  encapsulate electronic component onto the garment (Picture). Flexible TPU was used as material for casing. The textile was washed at 75oC 50 times, water absorption and operability of encapsulated electronic component were tested. The results showed, that the electronics stayed undamaged, water was not penetrating into the 3D printed casing and also the casing  stayed very well adhered to the textile. 3D printing is very promising as it can be used not only for fast prototyping of the solution, but also for production of small series of customized workwear with electronics.   

 

Indoor location tracking solution in chemical industry

Chemical industry sites are well equipped with fixed sensor network for danger situation – chemical spills, gas leaks, fire, dust, etc. In the danger situation the general alarm is given and the personnel is obliged to behave according to instructions and in most cases leave the area. Quite often the alarm stops all the operations, although if it could be better localized, only workers in proximity might be concerned with the alarm. In some cases there might be situations when worker did not hear the signal, was exposed to danger and can’t move by himself. Workwear equipped with location tracking capability could help to warn the worker about the danger and could assist in rescue operation by providing exact location of persons in the danger spot, but also in surrounding area. It could assist in better management of the situation and efficient work distribution to rescue team.

For workwear to be able to receive and transmit signal, it has to be integrated into overall IoT system of the industrial site. The most common GPS based location tracking  is not accurate enough for the application inside the building. Challenges with connectivity in industrial site is to find the way for the signal to be transferred reliably in spite of blind spot locations such as cellars, hinders such as walls, equipment, especially electromagnetic radiation from the instruments, and other obstacles.

Mesh technology was chosen to be tested for this purpose which assumingly can overcome all the obstacles. Mesh networking is a kind of network topology in which the device or node itself transmits its own data and works as a relay for other nodes. Routers are used to provide path for communication.

Encapsulated RuuviTag  wireless sensor node for location tracking

 

Mesh technology environment, i.e. the site where tracking is needed, was equipped with anchor devices that act as reference points for the location of the workwear. The movable nodes incorporated into workwear scan their surroundings for anchor devices. The strongest connection to an anchor device is used for determination of location. Value of mesh technology is that node from workwear in-spite of the disturbance of the signal will find the shortest way to the anchor by employing other nodes in the surrounding if needed. In case of location tracking in emergency, the node will forward the signal to the gateway through the network of nodes and anchors and onwards to a cloud where it is calculated and crunched through a positioning engine. After that the data is available for any backend system to use for applications, analysis, reports and alarms.

 

Centria has set the network in laboratories and pilot hall and tested its operability during 3 months time. 20,6m x 18,3m area was covered and it included 6 different purpose rooms for examining mesh network connectivity to ensure safety inside the building. Mesh network was installed by combining 1 gateway, 26 Anchors (endpoints), 9 Asset tags in the environment. Results of our tests clearly indicated, that the signal is hindered by the larger equipment of pilot hall and accuracy of location is reduced. It stays though within 2 meters, which is enough for the purpose of finding the person during the emergency. More precise location could be determined in office area.

In this scenario location tracking is actual only in emergency situations, a node could be configured to a stand-by power consumption mode and this way battery life is prolonged. According to our estimate 3V coin battery life is enough to maintain energy supply in workwear for lifecycle of it, which is estimated to be some 3 years in average. 

The animated solution is presented in https://youtu.be/ar8JuVgPAgI

Centria UAS participated in Smart and Safe Workwear (SWW) project financed by EU:n Interreg Baltic Sea Region programme.