Innovative, Life-Saving Harness

CLIENT: Werner

INDUSTRY: Commercial

SERVICES: Design, Engineering, Prototyping, Soft Goods

Throughout development of the ProForm F3, our team of soft goods specialists developed custom textiles to integrate with hard goods, all designed and fabricated in-house for rapid development. The new fall-protection harness combines extreme attention to aesthetic details with uncompromising safety standards. Delivering post-fall adjustability, ProForm F3 provides innovative, life-saving relief. Werner cut their timeline by 6 months and launched this award-winning product at the top of their industry.

Safety First

Workers above six feet from the ground are required by law to wear a fall protection harness. Werner’s existing fall protection harnesses were grounded in the mid-level price point, but they began losing sales to competitors’ premium harnesses.

Additionally, dissatisfaction with the product experience led to decreasing user compliance. Users were careless when putting on the harness, and improper fit adversely affects their safety. After a fall, workers are often suspended for hours, awaiting rescue in an extremely uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation with their fall protection harness often being the cause of extreme pain.

Werner’s safety team met with Priority Designs to demonstrate the challenges with existing harnesses and the importance of safety with a new design. Werner sought to develop a new product for the premium space that offered the right blend of comfort and protection in pre- and post- fall situations while improving overall compliance and safety. Werner enlisted our team of designers, soft good developers, and prototype specialists to help evolve their products in a new way.

After an audit of the premium space, high-end offerings in fall protection harnesses offered two extremes. Either the harness provided maximum protection, but was bulky and hot for the user, or it was very lightweight, but minimal in comfort or support. Hitting the right balance of protection, support, comfort and breathability required careful sourcing, detailed 2D design, and innovative soft goods engineering.

Materials and Sourcing

In traditional harnesses, layers of foam are used to create support, but with little airflow. The raw material sourcing led to a new textile innovation, combining different elements into one custom-developed textile. To create a custom Ariaprene textile, we chose the perforation, color dye, foams and fabrics to be applied into a single textile that performed optimally for each use case. The Ariaprene solution consists of a soft material on the skin, a high-density perforated foam on the interior, and a high-abrasion textile on the exterior.

Additionally, the project required regulatory compliance with restrictions on sun exposure, and abrasion resistance due to the work environment. The layered solution strikes the desired blend of breathability and support, meets regulations, and reduces overall weight of bulky competitive harnesses by 20-30% less.

2D Design

To develop the form, function, and aesthetics of the harness, our team undertook comprehensive 2D sketching and conceptualization. With extreme detail and realistic renderings, designers sketched in 1:1 ratio to visualize down to 1/16”. Teams worked through every strap, ensuring every element of functionality had a place.

The functional concept for the harness was to alleviate the pressure during a post-fall state by allowing users to re-position themselves into a seated position. Easily accessible relief cords could be pulled by the user to transition into the seated position awaiting rescue.

Users in the pre-fall state often experienced bruising from the self-rescue line (SRL) rubbing against their back throughout the day. With the addition of an SRL bumper, a plastic part would protect the user by lifting the SRL off the back. After much consideration for color, function, fit, material and usability, our team was ready to test it out in 3D.

Soft Goods Engineering and Prototyping

To test the functional components of the design, iterative prototyping played a huge role in the development of the project. Starting with digital patterning, the first prototype was a proof-of-concept. With the initial prototype, we set out to implement a 3-piece waist belt allowing more freedom of lateral back movement. Prototyping the concept revealed the design compromised the most desired function of post-fall comfort, and a single-piece waist belt was chosen to move forward.

Werner’s fall protection harness combined hard goods and soft goods, with extensive in-house testing and fabrication. Through rapid prototyping techniques, we quickly developed prototypes to test the geometry of the thermoformed part before cutting tooling. The initial geometry didn’t fit the shoulder comfortably, but shifting the placement allowed it to conform to different sizes and body types. Engineers created tooling data and aluminum tooling was created for compression molding. Prototype specialists helped quickly create test samples with varying durometers to determine what was best suited for the harness.

One of the key components of the harness is the dual back pad. In a post-fall state, pressure against the clavicle and neck from the shoulder strap webbing can cut through users’ skin, causing them to bleed. With a compression molded back pad, separate from the exterior protection, the pad can be shifted after a fall to reduce pressure.

To integrate with the soft goods materials, urethane parts were cast in-house and stitched into the cut-and-sew assembly. As the assembly came together, quick-connect buckles and auto-lock cam adjustments were also incorporated. Using intuitively placed, and easy to operate adjustments helps users properly fit the harness for improved compliance.

Through an additional proof-of-concept prototype, the team confirmed the design, worked out the fit, and moved to a functional prototype. The functional prototype fully realized the aesthetic and functional aspects of the design. In the final review, design details were meticulously decided down to the individual stitch line colors.

Manufacturing Handoff

When it came time to transfer the product to production, one final pre-production sample was delivered for manufacturing communications. When choosing a manufacturing partner, Priority Designs helped source a great partner, Agora, who was involved in the development process from the very first prototype. Integrating the manufacturing partner early helped facilitate a smooth transition to production.

The tech pack for the harness included the order of operations, which are very detailed step-by-step directions on how to make the product. This included a belted and non-belted harness, sub-assemblies, and the dual back pad assembly. Technical drawings at scale were provided to call out key assembly details along with an extensive bill of materials.

One of our soft goods specialists traveled to the manufacturer to walk though every part of the prototype and ensure the communication was clear, transfer tooling data and digital patterns. But with a tight timeline and nearing trade show, Werner was in need of samples before manufacturing could complete. To satisfy the urgent trade show need, Priority Designs created an additional five sets of pads and worked with Werner’s assembly manufacturer to integrate all of the parts into five functional samples, just in time for the show. The samples were used at the show for three and a half days to lift over 200 people up for demonstrations.

So, What Was the Result?

Collaborating with Werner and investing in thoughtful development helped launch a truly new product solution. To avoid the pain, health complications, or even death caused by traditional leg straps that cut off blood flow to the legs after a fall, ProForm F3 introduced relief cords to adjust the position into a comfortable seated state. Consideration to user experience brought about other features like the SRL bumper to prevent bruising, and intuitive auto-cam locks to fit the harness correctly.

Soft goods experts helped source and develop textiles to reduce the overall system weight by 20-30% over bulky competitive harnesses, while improving airflow and breathability. With in-house specialists, prototyping, and design, Priority Designs helped cut the timeline from one year, to just six months.

The team used their knowledge of manufacturing processes and material cost to make informed decisions to create production efficiencies. For example, the external material was switched to expanded vinyl to save cost without compromising the desired benefits. The ProForm harness was able to launch in the marketplace in the top tier of performance while still coming in under the competitor’s price point.

At the 2017 National Safety Council Congress & Expo, Werner’s ProForm F3 Harness placed best in show and was OSHA’s featured product for the Stand Down for Safety Training program. The launch has increased Werner’s reputation in the industry as a leader in safety and performance.

Werner ProForm F3 took home an International Design Excellence Award (IDEA) 2018 Silver award on September 19, 2018 at the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) International Design Conference in New Orleans.

Werner was recognized in the Commercial and Industrial category among 145 award winners across 20 categories. The IDEA awards are in their 38th year and have grown into one of the largest and most rigorous design competitions. The IDEA Awards evaluate product designs based on criteria including the challenge faced, uniqueness, user experience, benefit to the client, and benefit to society. With thousands of entries and nearly three dozen judges from corporations, design studios, and universities, IDEA recognition is truly an honor.

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