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The “Easy Path” to Designing Respiratory Products for a Global Workforce

“Make it global!”, the brief read.

Creating a mask to fit every face shape is not a straightforward job. Yet this was a key requirement in developing the new Honeywell HM500 series half- mask for industrial use. The air-purifying respirator had to be lighter than others, easy to don and doff and compatible with hard hats, eyewear or visors too.

Honeywell’s design team nailed it. The HM500 received a Red Dot Design Award, together with four other Honeywell products.

“These respirators perform convincingly thanks to their ergonomic properties and the compatibility with other protective equipment from the North HM500 series”, the Red Dot jury stated on their website.

So, how did the HM500 Series stand out?

Together with a global team of designers, Tanguy Prevot, Lead User Experience Designer at Honeywell and Pete Holdcroft, Global Creative Director of Experience Design, design life-saving products, from respiratory to fall protection equipment, industrial printers, and personal gas detectors.

Here’s how they’ve envisioned and achieved a remarkable respiratory product.

1.       How did the brief for the HM500 mask sound like?

Tanguy: The number one requirement was to “make it global’, which is challenging from a design and product performance point of view. We had to make a mask that adapts to different face shapes and bone structures. But since the workforce is so diverse, you can’t really create something that is not adaptable or universally fitting anymore.

So, we contacted our colleagues from all over the world, representing a broad population of subjects, to conduct usability, fit, and comfort tests. The team in China invited students to test the prototypes and provide feedback.  

The second requirement was to make it lightweight, and comfortable for extended wear.

And thirdly, it had to be silicone-free. If you are a painter in an automotive paint line, you don’t want silicone molecules contaminating your surfaces. Extremely small particles of silicone can cause craters and impact the quality of your work.

2.       How did you choose the colors, shapes, and materials?

Tanguy: The colors follow Honeywell’s design language system. And we know dark greys are suitable for dusty environments.

The shape was an evolution from another project which was being developed for the Chinese market, but I’ve tried to simplify it as much as possible.

The ventilation is simple, square-shaped, with rounded corners. It is the eye-catching, recognizable element, but also plays an important functional role – to let air in and out. If the air doesn’t come out easily enough, the user feels can’t breathe properly, as moisture, heat, and CO2 build up inside.

The material is a soft thermoplastic elastomer (TPE), something we’ve used for other products and has worked well. The advantage of TPE is its ability to stretch to moderate elongations and return to its near original shape. It’s great for soft-touch applications.

3.       What is the most outstanding feature?

Tanguy:  Easy donning and doffing is an innovative feature, present in the drop-down version.

The patent-pending drop-down feature allows reopening the buckle, so the mask easily falls on the chest. The need for this functionality came as we realized some PPE is taken off regularly, during work breaks. But the challenge was to have the mask stay on while you close it and to slide easily when needed, all while not affecting the other PPE the worker might be wearing. 

Half of the slot (through which the strap passes) is smooth and half is sharp. This allows the strap to slide smoothly while lifting the mask up to the face, but increase friction to stabilize the mask once it is placed on the face.

The Honeywell North HM500 Series Half Mask | Future of Respiratory Protection

4.       How do you give respiratory products a global appeal?

Pete: A lot of time and consideration was spent creating a simple, clean aesthetic, to raise the quality of design in this category and create a modern form.  There’s a common philosophy in everything we do, whether we design footwear or printers. The design needs to say “it’s Honeywell” and it needs to say what it is – in this case, a half-mask.

The rounded square is one of our signature features. Between the filters and the mask, there’s also a section of red. We call it “red core” and we typically use it on internal parts to symbolize technology.

As PPE is evolving, we pay special attention to people’s perception of comfort as they’re putting on an additional layer of clothing or equipment. We want people to feel confident and to feel they’re wearing something of high-quality.

5.       Did you make any design compromise?

Tanguy: There’ was a different exhalation valve, initially. The original one was impairing speech, it was creating an extra vibration, so we reverted to the current model, that works well. If the product was only about providing safety, there wouldn’t have been an issue. But communication is a key function of respiratory PPE, it improves productivity, so the mask needs to allow speech.

6.       Was it difficult to design this type of product?

Tanguy: A respiratory mask is a complex product. When you design a mask, you don’t really design the shape, you design a deformation – a shape that will deform on the face – a concept that’s difficult to grasp. We had several iterations of prototyping and testing, including different types of TPE. Picking the right material to ensure skin comfort and fit was an important part of the process.

We’ve also created 20-30 printed prototypes for the drop-down feature. Refining this component took months, more time than we anticipated, but we did not give up.

Pete: Product development is never straightforward, and PPE is even more challenging with all the regulatory requirements. Designing by nature is an iterative process, you need to investigate out-of-the-box solutions, so, our designers take on the challenge of trying new things. 

7.       How do you feel about winning the Red Dot award?

Pete: Red Dot is the “Oscars” for product design, there are a lot of independent expert judges from around the world analyzing the products, so having five of our products on the winner list is a great feeling.

Tanguy: It’s someone else saying “these guys did a good job” and that matters to us.

Curious to know more? Discover all the features of the new HM500 APR from Honeywell.

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Alexandra Serban
Content Marketing Specialist
Alexandra Serban is the Content Marketing Specialist for Honeywell Industrial Safety. A seasoned writer and digital storyteller, she is learning and reporting on industrial safety news, trends and products.