CBNW talks to Justin Hine, Project Director CBRN (Military) at Avon Protection about the company’s developing portfolio and technological advancements in its respirator range.
CBNW: We are delighted to speak with you in our Winter 2022 Edition. First of all could you please outline a brief history of the Company?
JH: We have been supplying protection solutions to the UK Ministry of Defence and other allies since World War I. We are a primary supplier of integrated protective equipment to NATO and the US Department of Defense (DoD). With over 3.5 million respirators in service, users in over 65 countries all put their trust in Avon Protection’s technology to shield them from whatever threat.
CBNW: Please could you describe Avon’s major and specialist roles in CBRN protection?
JH: Avon Protection offer a broad portfolio of CBRN products. Our market leading CBRN solutions include a range of respirators, filters, Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) systems, Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) and communication, hydration, and vision accessories.
Core to our CBRN protection solutions is the 50 series range of respirators. Developed in conjunction with the US DoD to counter multiple CBRN threats met in modern warfighting, antiterrorist, and peacekeeping operations, the 50 series respirators are universally regarded as the most operationally proven and widely deployed battlefield respirators.
CBNW: There have been advances in manufacturing pioneered by the company. Please could you outline these?
JH: Avon Protection has invested significantly in automation, most recently for the manufacture of CBRN filters. We use robots to achieve precise movement and location of our filter components – giving us repeatable manufacturing not possible with humans.
We incorporated state-of-the-art automated inspection into our filter lines at a level previously reserved for the likes of pharmaceutical companies. We use automated weigh scales to ensure correct dispensing, intelligent vision systems to verify key product features, RFID (radio-frequency identification) and barcode tracking of each unique filter with automated removal of suspect product, taking the human judgement factor out of the equation.
Over 150 product and process attributes are captured for each of our filters and stored in our electronic database. This unrivalled trove of data is a key part of how we ensure the highest-quality product while facilitating data-driven continuous improvement.
CBNW: Please could you describe how Avon offers special expertise applied to its range of respirators?
JH: We offer special expertise through two key areas: design and manufacture. In terms of design, we focus on requirement definition particularly through the voice of the customer.
By combining insights from next-generation technology and markets trends and drivers as well as the needs and requirements of our customers, our future technology roadmap stretches out across the next 30 years to ensure we retain our competitive edge and leading positions in respiratory and ballistic protection.
To ensure our products meet our high-quality standards, we work with a range of scientific bodies such as Dstl (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) and DoD’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, alongside universities for technology, and commercial entities such as Proquares, DEKRA or BSI for validation of designs. Internally we have a large group of people who are technical or subject matter experts as well as defence and security advisors.
We have been manufacturing respiratory protection equipment for over a hundred years; we often utilise specialist materials where there is a maximum benefit to the user. We operate with automated manufacturing systems for consistency and cost-effective production.
Our manufacturing facilities are ISO-certified which evidences our commitments to delivering quality products to our customers. Beyond this, we have a range of specialist six sigma-capable experts that can work at optimising our production capability.
CBNW: Can you outline how the product line works and any special points about its design for the workforce and efficiency of production?
JH: The Avon product line works on a common respirator platform for the 50 or 53 series. The respirator can be configured to be utilised by either a general service operator or modified to be used by a specialist operator.
Within that respirator platform we have common accessories and spare parts such as drinking systems, filtration options, vision, and communication. Further to that platform we can then add extra capability through our powered air range.
The powered air range can be used with a single- or twin-filter system, and then we can also add a SCBA with a range of cylinder sizes and wearing positions. Furthermore, we can go on and combine the powered air and SCBA systems together to provide a combination system.
AvonAir is an example of a product range that is revolutionising the CBRN environment. Delivering user-configurable modules provides an adaptable protection factor, increased time on task, reduced physiological burden, and lowest cost of ownership throughout the system’s lifetime.
This creates significant efficiencies in terms of production and also product maintenance – because instead of having a very broad range of components that fit on different products, what we have is a range of accessories and spare parts that are all common and work across a range of platforms.
CBNW: How great a part does R & D play in Avon’s output?
JH: In 2020, we invested a total of £9.0 m (2019: £7.3 m), representing 5.4% of revenue (2019: 5.7%), in research and development. We expect to continue to invest at this level over the medium-term. This reflects our confidence in our expanded R&D capability to innovate across our broader personal protection portfolio – to meet more of the integrated future technical needs of our customers.
CBNW: What are your main markets and how are your products used and deployed by military and first-responder units?
JH: Avon Protection is recognised as a world leader in respiratory and ballistic protection, delivering life-critical solutions for militaries and first responders worldwide. As an innovative capability provider, we understand the unique requirements of the modern warfighter and tactical operator.
This depth of specialisation and understanding has ensured products are designed to protect our users in the most extreme of environments.
CBNW: What kind of civilian users and organisations benefit from Avon respirators and other CBRN protection items?
JH: A significant part of our customer base is made up of non-military users which predominantly includes police, SWAT, riot control, emergency medical responders, media, humanitarian charity organisations and security services.
Often at Avon, a large proportion of R&D into new products is sponsored through military users and that technology cascades into products suitable for the other markets as mentioned above, ensuring that technical innovation and high efficiency products get through to these users.
CBNW: How far does Avon trade overseas and to which countries?
JH: Avon Protection trade globally and we are proud to say our products are in use in over 65 countries. We have a robust global network of distributors and agents selling to first-responder agencies, correctional facilities, SWAT and other tactical police units.
CBNW: And finally, how do you see the company developing in the near- and long-term future?
JH: We are an innovator of respiratory and ballistic protection products and systems for a variety of customers across the world. As a leader in the PPE market, Avon recognises the need for all individual pieces of equipment to interface together to ensure the complete soldier system provides maximum performance and protection.
Integration is at the core of our future CBRN capability – which includes our market leading respirators alongside helmets, boots, and gloves. Our products are developed to integrate seamlessly with ancillary equipment such as the respirator with other head systems.
This approach to integration between solider equipment provides users with the highest level of performance and protection – while still maintaining operational agility.
Justin Hine has 22 years’ experience in military and commercial respiratory product development and project management. He has been involved with the development of Avon’s latest generation of respirators, including the FM50 and FM53, and led the team who developed Avon’s range of innovative escape hoods. The escape hood range of products has been widely adopted by military, law enforcement and industry. Justin is now Project Director CBRN supporting Avon’s EMEA military team. His range of knowledge and expertise is crucial for Avon’s wide range of customers. He has extensive experience of working with Military customers from around the world.
The Avon CS-PAPR is the most advanced modular Combination Unit Respirator (CUR) in use.