Internet-connected clothing and overall(s) leadership

Thomas Wilk says technology is just a tool to achieve greater reliability.

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

One of the more interesting stories to emerge from GE’s 2016 Minds + Machines conference is a new type of industry wearable. Just when you were kind of getting used to the idea of Google Glass and smartwatches, along comes something completely different: Internet-connected overalls.

According to the story (, a demo at the M+M event showcased how sensors sewn into overalls can interact with proximity sensors can increase worker safety. In the demo, a utility worker wearing the overalls gets too close to an electrical panel, triggering a cutoff to the flow of electricity to the panel.

Stephanie Sireau of GE Digital is quoted as saying that this new wearable technology is part of an overall mission “to integrate the worker into a digital industrial context,” adding that the same embedded sensors will also be able to deliver vital-signs data to help anticipate workers’ health problems.

Did you see smart overalls coming? Did anyone in your organization, including the EH&S team and/or medical health professionals? Do you know if IT has a strategy in place on how to deploy wearables in the workplace?

The ongoing digital industrial transformation is challenging the regular way of doing things, from operations and maintenance to supply chain and safety. As each new digital technology comes to market, it can feel like a race to keep up with the Joneses next door, who just invested in the latest wireless-enabled test tools or who might have just tied their CMMS into their MES system.

The good news is that your facility already has the strongest asset in place to start (or continue) on your digital journey: your leadership team, the decision-makers whose job it is to set strategy and approve projects and initiatives that drive positive results for your business.

As Azima DLI CEO Burt Hurlock wrote in the Q3 issue of sister publication Smart Industry: “Like doctors to medicine or construction workers to building, industry needs leaders and managers and team builders to harness the new tools available to them. The technology will not deploy, implement, or perform on its own, and putting it to use correctly will demand specialized knowledge.” (

If there’s one recommendation I would make for 2017, it’s to embrace this challenge of cultivating best-in-class leadership. This kind of support is not always common; for example, as our columnist Tom Moriarty found in his 2015 leadership survey, supervisors in particular often don’t get quality leadership training before or after assuming leadership roles, yet they direct 80% to 90% of plant personnel, and have 70% influence over the attitudes and performance of their teams (

You can buy all the smart overalls you want, but unless you have leaders who help others understand why and how new tools will help drive success, those overalls are just another pair of pants.