August 17, 2017 / Andrew Brown

When it Comes to Wearables, Your Brand Takes a Hit if You Don’t Know the Risks

"Product stewards who deal with consumer wearables have a lot to think about,” says Ankur Singhal, managing scientist at Exponent. From battery failures to the storage of confidential consumer data, some risks aren’t entirely understood or appreciated, especially when it comes to biocompatibility, because the market is relatively new.

Chemicals leaching from materials, e.g., adhesives, used in a wearable device may present a biocompatibility issue to the manufacturer. These chemicals may be sensitizers and with extended periods of contact with the skin can potentially cause some users to experience an allergic reaction. Because wearable products can incorporate hundreds of chemicals with different profiles, the challenge is to accurately estimate the risks.

“You can’t ever in good conscience say the risk is zero,” says Singhal. “What you can do is conduct an effective risk assessment that addresses potential problems.”

For example, say a company makes a wearable device that’s meant to be worn during exercise, but it’s not meant to experience full submersion in water for extended periods of time, e.g., during bathing or swimming. The challenge here is to test this product in its most representative scenario in order to most accurately estimate the potential health risk from this device.

In other words, “If we can’t test real-life scenarios, then the results are useless,” says Singhal. He’ll go more deeply into the subject during Consumer Wearables: A New Product Stewardship Challenge, a session at Product Stewardship 2017.

The presentation will look at the risk of skin sensitization associated with wearables. “We’ve developed a model to estimate what the risk is to the general population and the concentrations that might lead to sensitization risk,” says Singhal. At the same time, product stewards will learn to apply some of the same concepts to other types of risk.

“The big take-home message is to convince product stewards that this is a real challenge,” says Singhal. “A lot of companies are facing these challenges, and when they don’t address them, it affects their brands in the long term.”

Andrew Brown

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