The evolution of PPE technology: What's new in the world of protective gear?
The evolution of PPE technology: What's new in the world of protective gear?
Human beings are evolved beings. Along with their evolution, humans have evolved many things. PPE is one of those things which has grown from simple masks made from animal skin to complex SCBA sets and N95 respirators made from novel synthetic materials. Even now, they are growing at an impressive rate to aid industrial growth and improve the safety standards of the industries. In the recent period, PPE technology has rapidly evolved due to various factors, one of which is the COVID-19 pandemic. The article shed light on the fascinating advancements in the field of PPE technology that is transforming the PPE industry.
History of PPE -
PPE has evolved over the years, and its history helps us understand human psychology and the things they have done to survive and develop. The evolution of PPE has been in line with human development. It is a history of at least a couple thousand years, so let’s go through its rich history. The evolution of the noteworthy rudimentary PPE dates back to the ancient Egyptians who designed and manufactured animal hide masks for the workers who constructed the pyramids. These masks were worn for protection against dust.
Another prominent PPE, which evolved a lot during ancient times, was body armor and helmets made for battles and wars. These PPE were meant to protect the warriors from the weapons in the battle. Initially, the armor was made up of leather, but with time it was shifted to metals which would provide more strength and protection but often made it bulky. The following evolution was the invention and use of various alloys that would make the armor lightweight but increase its strength. The focus on PPE technology during the period was primarily for battle-related PPE only. But, it was about to change with the onset of the industrial revolution.
The industrial revolution was a turning point in the evolution of PPE technology. With the introduction of heavy machinery followed by the conveyor revolution, the requirement and significance of safety had increased. With time, worker safety gained prominence, which meant there were PPEs invented, manufactured, and provided to the workers to protect themselves from various hazards.
The PPEs mostly worn by workers were helmets and shoes. It was followed by the introduction of goggles, respirators, and gloves, and the period between the late 1890s and early 1910s witnessed tremendous advancements in material chemistry. Materials like plastics were used for PPE production. The world wars witnessed, the improvement in PPE technology owing to the chemical warfare used during the battles. Respiratory-protective, head-protective, eye-protective, and body-protective PPE technology was developed to ensure the safety of soldiers and workers. After the 1950s, complex PPEs like the SCBA were developed.
Check out the article on SCBA to know more about their role in emergencies and rescue.
What's new in the world of protective gear?
History is a witness to the exponential improvement of PPE technology with time and the arrival of new hazards. In today’s modern world, PPE technology primarily focuses on current techs like IoT, nanotech, AR, 3D printing, and advanced materials.
1] Smart PPE -
The Internet of Things or IoT has made PPE smart. Well, smart PPE comes with sensors that can detect and alert the wearer about the hazard. They are also capable of providing and procuring real-time analysis data of the hazards the wearer has been exposed to. Moreover, smart PPE can alert the wearer if their vitals deviate from the standard.
Smart PPE can be connected to an external device and alarms, which can help one clear out the place in case of any potential hazard, thus reducing the chances of any casualties and injuries, thus improving workplace safety, efficiency, and productivity. Smart PPE can also provide data analytics that helps identify the patterns of hazards and other aspects which can help in safety improvement.
Examples of smart PPE are -
These helmets come with sensors that can provide real-time data analysis and relay the feedback of the impact. It can also alert the wearer about impacts and objects. Smart helmets can also be integrated with AR. These helmets are preferred for construction workers.
They are used by medical professionals for data analysis of their hand movements, grip, and position. For chemical industries, smart gloves have sensors that help in detecting hazardous chemicals before contact and provide alerts about them.
Most of these PPE come with sensors that help in heat detection or chemical exposure. They can also be connected to external devices, which can help in relaying alerts in case of hazard exposure. Smart PPE clothing with heat detection sensors is used by firefighters.
Check out our article on firefighting PPE.
They come equipped with sensors that alert the wearer when they are exposed to a hazard. Moreover, they can have sensors that can provide real-time data of the wearer’s breathing rate and control the airflow accordingly.
2] Nanotechnology -
The use of nanotech in PPE is at a primitive stage. It is believed that nanotech has incredible capabilities that can enhance the protection ability of PPEs. It has been proven that the use of nanoparticles can help in filtration efficiency and trapping pathogens. Nanotech may also potentially help in creating advanced materials that are durable but lightweight, which can be used for PPE manufacturing. Research on using nanotech for eliminating contamination is in progress.
Currently, most work is done on nanocomposites, which are materials manufactured by blending nanoparticles with existing materials. Nanocomposites can be created for tailor-made properties which can nullify the disadvantages of the existing materials. 3M has been actively working on nanocomposites and has achieved success too.
For more details check out article on role of nanomaterials in PPE.
3] Advanced Materials -
PPEs require strong, durable, and lightweight materials. In the recent past, many such unique materials have been created. Advanced materials are specifically engineered to have the required properties. Examples of advanced materials are -
It is a high-strength synthetic fiber widely used in manufacturing bulletproof jackets, and other body-protective, head-protective, and hand-protective PPE. It is known to endure brute force and is at least five times stronger than steel. Yet the material is durable and lightweight. It was developed by DuPont.
It was created by Gore & Associates. Gore-Tex is a breathable waterproof fabric used for manufacturing body-protective and foot-protective PPE. Gore-Tex is known to have abrasion resistance, which makes it an ideal fabric for body-protective PPE.
Curious ones can check out our article on importance of chemical protective clothing.
It was first synthesized and marketed by DuPont. It quickly became a popular fabric for the manufacture of heat-resistant body protective PPE. It is a go-to fabric if the person may be exposed to heat, flames, or fire.
Another advanced material identified by DuPont is widely used in manufacturing body protective PPE. It is a lightweight, durable, breathable, abrasion-resistant, and liquid-resistant material. Body-protective PPE manufactured using this fabric is preferred in healthcare workplaces and labs.
4] 3D printing -
3D printing has the potential to revolutionize PPE tech. It can drastically reduce the cost of PPE manufacturing even with multiple constraints like custom fitting. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were attempts to manufacture respirators using 3D printing tech.
5] Augmented Reality -
AR or Augmented Reality is a technology that helps to connect the external surroundings with digital information. It can help the PPE wearer to be aware of their surroundings and thus about the hazards too. Moreover, it can aid the wearer to don the PPE properly, and even train them.
The evolution of PPE technology has been marvelous, and even more, the latest ones are interesting. They have tremendous potential to revolutionize the PPE industry. The five current PPE techs - smart PPE, advanced materials, nanotech, 3D printing, and AR are only a few noteworthy ones. Companies like DuPont and 3M have heavily invested in many such modern techs, and shortly we may see many such developments. These techs help in the reduction of PPE disadvantages such as discomfort and help in making PPE much more effective. Along with the safety provision, PPE can also aid in data analytics for a safer workplace and reduced risk.