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A Closer Look At How Industrial Equipment And Safety Products Are Designed

When it comes to designing safety equipment, engineers identify hazards in the workplace

and then work towards creating industrial equipment designed to avoid a hazard, mitigate its effect, or create a barrier between workers and a potential injury.

The design process is first carried out in a virtual space such as a drafting and modeling program. CAD is a popular choice due to its extensive features that enables designers to create prototypes without having to use materials. A CAD library can be built to contain every component of industrial equipment used for safety purposes and then those pieces can be pieced together like a puzzle. This CAD library also serves as an effective management tool for revision control to track the progress of a new design and identify key decision points.

Overall, the prototyping process built into a CAD library allows engineers to save resources while building early models. Personal protective equipment can be modeled to be ergonomic and visually pleasing in a virtual space before it is manufactured and tested.

Let us take a look at two examples of how hazards are identified in the workplace and then how industrial equipment is designed to address them.

Fire And Heat Safety

Fire hazards have been present in the industrial workplace since the beginning, but today's workplace has some unique heat and flame hazards that have required new PPE. Flash fires and arc fires are the new type of hazard that today's flame resistant clothing has been developed to protect against. Welding, electrical equipment, and highly flammable liquids and gasses create a unique heat hazard. Instead of a fire that burns hot for a long time, like a burning timber pile, flash and arc fires burn for only an instant but at an extremely high temperature. If a worker is caught in an arc fire, there is no way to avoid the heat, as it would be impossible during a normal fire. A protective barrier has to be created in order to mitigate the heat.

With an instantaneous release of intense heat, most clothing will actually melt to a person's skin. This causes permanent disfigurement if not outright death. If there is a concussive blast following a gas cylinder detonation, for example, workers will be knocked unconscious in the area of a raging fire.

In order to address these hazards, today's flame resistant clothing has been designed with two important features. First, the threads and fibers do not melt even under intense heat. If exposed to high temperatures, they will instead burn off rather than melt to the skin. Second, the material is also self-extinguishing. If the apparel ignites and there is no longer a source of fuel for the fire, the clothing will not stay engulfed in flame. These features give any person a fighting chance to survive a sudden fire without the loss of life of being disabled.

Visibility On The Job Site

The 20th century saw the explosion of highways and automobiles that crossed America. Road construction crews quickly became a common sight and many people were employed in the building and maintenance of the highway system. However, mixing high-speed traffic and construction zones are a recipe for many hazards. Today, crews often work at night in order to keep vital roadways operational during the day. Any low light working conditions are a hazard for employees from both motorists and construction vehicles themselves.

The main issue at hand when it concerns visibility is that a person wearing white clothing can be seen from 250 feet away in low light conditions. A car traveling 30 mph, however, requires 600 feet of roadway to come to a complete stop. When considering highway speeds, cars require upwards of 1200 feet of stopping distance. Clearly, new industrial equipment was necessary to address this situation.

When light hits an object, the light's energy is reflected back in all directions. Retro-reflective materials were designed that concentrate light energy and reflect it back only in the direction that it came from. So, for example, headlight beams reflect off of a construction worker directly back to the car's driver. This advance has increased worker visibility to over 1300 feet when they are wearing a full set of regulation high visibility clothing.

Industrial equipment and safety products undergo a design process when hazards can be identified. PPE is then designed to mitigate the harm of a hazard, prevent it all together, or put a barrier between workers and their environment. As industry changes, new industrial equipment will be created to address tomorrow's safety needs.

by:Greg Palmer
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