Michael Kim, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder at StrongArm Technologies Inc., spoke to Rob Harrison, Director of EHSQ Content Strategy at Intelex Technologies Inc. to discuss the benefits of supporting the health and wellbeing of the Industrial Athlete.
How did StrongArm Technologies come to be? What has the journey been like up to this point?
At StrongArm we started with exoskeletons for manual labourers. Sean Pettersen, CEO and Co-Founder, grew up watching his father work a construction job and saw the constant wear and tear on the body. Manual labourers, or who we call Industrial Athletes, are the backbone of America. It’s easy to take that delivery of your online shopping for granted, but the reason it was able to arrive on your doorstep so quickly is because people are moving those products and that ultimately powers our economy. That’s just one example of thousands.
The idea from inception in 2012 was to build things that could help these Industrial Athletes be safer at work and perform at a level that is on par with sports athletes. Over the past decade or two, equipment for workers on the front lines has not drastically improved. Contrast that with athletes who have companies like Nike and UnderArmour constantly giving them new tools using the latest performance-enhancing technology. We are doing the same as those companies, but instead of improving athletic performance we’re saving lives and avoiding injuries so those workers go home safely every day.
Is there a feedback loop for the wearer or the individual who is using the device?
Absolutely, that feedback loop is one of the most important components of the system. We can provide sensory feedback (audio, visual and vibration). If you continue to engage in risky behaviour or improper technique or you interact with a piece of equipment you don’t have the training to use, then we provide that feedback immediately. That information is also captured and can be viewed as a score in the dashboard for analysis. You can see that score across your peers, shifts, etc. and find where things can be improved and what needs to be implemented to achieve those improvements.
Do you feel safety leaders are embracing wearables? Are they gaining momentum?
I’m optimistic. People have become more aware of the benefits of wearables. What’s exciting is people are starting to realize the possibilities.
It’s easy to have a retrospective view on injuries that have already taken place, but by then it’s already too late. It takes a while to do root cause analysis, job safety analysis and then have a bunch of meetings to figure out what to do about it. By then you’re months away from an actual decision taking place. We provide data in real time, speeding up the decision-making process and working towards preventing injury from happening in the first place.
The people who understand wearables best are making better, smarter business decisions. They adopt the technology and figure out how to make it work. Everyone will come around once they see how effective they are. I think there just needs to be more case studies out there. Wearables in the industrial workplace is in the grassroots stage right now, but there is a lot of momentum. I think it is going to be pretty big very soon.
How would an organization get started? What is the profile of a company that should be talking to you?
As long as the need is there, we are willing and able to deploy. We never shy away from a problem that needs a solution. The most important thing is to make sure all the constituents of the organization are informed and educated on the goals and objectives of the project, as well as what this stuff does and doesn’t do. Otherwise, it’s difficult to get buy-in and move the product along.
The best way to start is to have a sit down, bring in the right people, share the right information. Once we have that shared understanding across different stakeholders then we can really get started and have a huge impact.
The next generation of workers are more mobile and its harder to attract and keep these individuals. Can wearables help organizations attract these individuals?
I think we’re seeing this today, not just anticipating it in the next generation. Everything you mentioned, we’ve heard it from our clients. There is definitely value for future generations, but workers today also need to see their company is invested in their health and safety.
If a company is truly dedicated and engaged with their workers and show they care, the employees recognize that and it does have value. You have better workers who are more motivated as well as a culture that embraces teamwork, communication and a shared understanding of the company vision.
You see this culture in Amazon, Google, Netflix, etc. but for whatever reason it hasn’t been migrated to the manual labour workforce. You actually need it more in those types of jobs that are strenuous, repetitive, and hard on the body. Whether they are wearables or not, you need to use the right tools to tell your workers you care.
How do you see the market evolving?
It is currently in its infancy stage. There will be a lot of different players doing a lot of different things in the wearable space. Some doing heads-up display, augmented reality, virtual reality, motion analysis, biometric data, etc. All these things target very specific problems.
I see a consolidation effort happening over the next two to 4 years. People want a more holistic approach and understanding of the risks as well as the safety situation of the worker. In the next five years this data will need to be woven into operational and productivity information, showing the interaction between the worker and the environment. I think this is inevitable.