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Once again, I’ve braved the traffic on the M25/M4 for another visit to the 3M Customer Innovation Centre in Bracknell, where the company proudly explains the technology, research and development journeys that lie behind its most important products.
It’s already my third visit this year since starting my new role with RS as the manager of our 3M account, and each time I’ve been pleased to find something new, even in this short space of time, as the company updates the centre with its latest new product launches.
3M Stands for Innovation – the 15% Culture
Before we start this third visit, our contact at 3M, Gill, has explained that the company’s earliest foundations were built on developing and adapting products for customer needs. The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company was founded in 1902 with the intention of mining minerals from nearby quarries to supply to companies for use in grinding wheels. After finding that that first product wasn’t working, the company quickly innovated and changed course – adding the mineral it was mining to paper to become the first inventor of sandpaper!
The value 3M places on product innovation comes through on the tour.
Scott, our guide, explains how 3M employees in research and development roles are allowed to use 15% of their time to focus on innovation, as the company seeks to develop products that will make their customers’ lives easier by solving day-to-day problems.
Click here to see 3M Personal Protection Innovations from RS
He adds that researchers from the company’s five technologies: Industrial, Health Care, Consumer, Safety and Graphics and Electronics and Energy, are actively encouraged to share innovation, and the Innovation Centre is full of examples of where a product developed to solve a particular problem in one technology area has been further developed or adapted for a second application.
Scott stresses that the new company strapline, “Applying Science to Life” reflects that fact 3M don’t simply innovate for the sake of innovation, that all of their new products are designed to solve a problem. He adds that 3M now estimate that each of us has over 100 interactions with their products every day! (This can be direct or indirect interactions, for example 3M products may be embedded in devices we are using, like laptops or cars).
DBI-Sala® ExoFit™ Fall Arrest Harnesses
So what’s new for this visit?
Shortly after we start our 3M innovation tour, I catch sight of the latest personal protection equipment to be introduced to the RS Components range – 3M™DBI-Sala® ExoFit™ Fall Arrest Harnesses.
Nestling in a quiet corner, away from the main route of the product innovations, a mannequin has been kitted out with an ExoFit NEX™, one of 3M™DBI-Sala®’s latest range of harnesses, and because I was involved in the launch and want to find out more, I rudely interrupt Scott and branch off to explore.
3M, Expanding Into Fall Arrest
3M acquired Capital Safety and its two global brands: DBI-Sala® and Protecta® late in 2015, as the company sought to expand its range of Personal Protective Equipment, giving its customers access to the latest developments in protection when working at height.
Scott explains what makes the ExoFit NEX™ stand out from the competition.
Firstly, ExoFit NEX™ harnesses have a number of features that are specifically designed to keep things simple for the user, to help avoid complexity – when you’re working at height you want kit that is quick and easy to use. Duo-Lok quick connect buckles allow for quick, easy closure of the harness. The torso can be adjusted by simply twisting a rolling knob – no fiddling with straps – and the clip used with the harness is deliberately oversized for easy threading into the aluminium Tech-Lite D-rings. It’s all designed for economy of movement, economy of thought.
Levels of comfort are also making the ExoFit NEX™ popular across a range of industries. For example, pockets contain a suspension relief strap that users can pull out and stand on in the event of a fall, to prevent straps from digging into their groin area. Harnesses are made from lightweight material, making them suitable for working for long periods, and feature moisture wicking padding to keep them dry.
Scott lists the different industries where the ExoFit NEX™ is being used: utilities (I learn that DBI-Sala® carry out training on wind turbines), oil and gas platforms, construction and in electrical maintenance.
VR Technology – showing off ExoFit NEX™ product benefits … whilst making me look stupid
Like a fool, I ask about the virtual reality goggles and station set up alongside the mannequin, and after asking if I am scared of heights Scott invites me to put the ExoFit NEX™ to the test.
I discover that what I rushed over to see is actually a virtual reality centre that 3M has set up to show off their latest PPE innovation.
I gingerly put the goggles on, am asked to fit my hands into two virtual gloves, (a remote control device for each hand), and am then put through my paces. What follows is scary, and a little embarrassing.
For what seems like about an hour, but in reality is no more than about three minutes, I move around a virtual reality scene in which I am a construction worker, working at a height of around 1500 metres on a skyscraper in an anonymous city. I can see my fellow builders in front of me, and to my left and my right huge skyscrapers, and directly in front of me a walkway across an abyss of terror.
I follow Scott’s instructions, clip myself into my ExoFit™ harness, then move up and down the walkway to carry out various building tasks, petrified. In the space of a few seconds I forget that this is only virtual reality and also an exercise to show me how an ExoFit™ harness will save my life. It all seems just too real – probably a good way to acclimatise builders who might get the jitters?? My blood pressure is high, bad language is frequent, language used is very bad.
Finally, after what seems like an eternity, Scott asks me to step off the walkway into the abyss of terror. After spending a few seconds to compute, and to remember, thinking rationally, that the walkway isn’t real and I can still hear my 3M hosts, I comply and step out towards an inevitable plunge downwards, my worst nightmare … apparently screaming as I do so … and am saved by my trusty ExoFit™ NEX™ harness.
Click here to see 3M Personal Protection Innovations from RS