Trends in Glove Manufacturing
Industry demands guide hand protection technology and product development, shifting from conventional to task-specific products.
- By Cherilyn Nelson
- Jun 01, 2010
Wouldn't it be nice if we could look
into the future to see what advancements
will have been made in hand
protection product manufacturing
during the next five, 10, or 15 years?
Because this is not possible, glove manufacturers
instead focus on product usage trends and current
worker protection needs that are not being met
to help guide their research and development efforts.
Additionally, they survey related industries and respond
with new products and technologies.
In the past, conventional glove manufacturing
relied on massive manpower and conventional
technology for production. Companies were
manufacturing-focused and employed popular,
systematic approaches using recognized materials
to make products or components in a highly consistent
Today, branded manufacturers are placing
greater emphasis on product differentiation as
customers become more sophisticated in their expectations.
Hand protection products must meet
customer requirements at every level, providing
the protection, comfort, and dexterity that help
promote worker safety and productivity.
Listening to the Voice of the Customer
The leading glove manufacturers have always relied
on the voice of the customer to guide product
development and manufacturing decisions. It's a
well-known fact that many product innovations
and processes originate from customer-specific
The recent economic downturn, however, has
mandated that manufacturers develop even closer
working relationships with customers to provide
products that meet their specific needs. Glove
manufacturers are focusing on improvisation and
experimentation, with greater emphasis on identifying
a variety of materials that offer solutions to
specific design challenges.
want hand protection
that look good,
feel good, and
levels of performance.
to provide workers
for example, that
are thinner, more comfortable, and yet provide the
same protective qualities — such as cut and chemical
protection — that workers have come to enjoy.
Safety directors and others have witnessed the
innovations that sports apparel manufacturers
have designed into their products — including
coolness, comfort features, and moisture-wicking
capabilities — and expect similar features in their
hand protection. Because they desire the fit and
pleasing appearance common to sports attire,
there is a higher demand than ever for form-fitting
gloves with brighter colors, patterns, and textures.
Glove products today also must be able to perform
in more diverse and demanding environments.
They may prevent odor, incorporate antimicrobial
properties, repel insects, or offer fire,
ultraviolet, impact, or puncture resistance.
Global Markets and Competition
Products developed for specific applications or
specialty performance generally include a more complex design and offer greater value
per unit. Many of these newly developed
products are manufactured in
smaller volumes and targeted to niche
markets, which has resulted in companies
seeking global customers for their
Glove manufacturers also are exploring
global production opportunities,
with conventional glove manufacturing
shift ing from the United States
to Asia, South America, and Africa.
Despite this change, hand protection
providers continue to emphasize the
production of high-quality, high-volume
products at the lowest possible
cost. They have witnessed how easily
their branded products can be duplicated
in the global marketplace and
how rapidly that duplication can occur.
The United States is experiencing a
tremendous influx of cheap imitations
that look similar to high-quality gloves
but fall short in their ability to perform
or protect workers from injury.
Market knowledge and a comprehensive
understanding of customers'
unmet needs are more critical than
ever to compete successfully at a global
level. The role of hand protection providers
extends beyond product recommendations;
they must understand
a customer's entire business and be
prepared to recommend solutions that
meet certain requirements.
How are branded manufacturers responding
to the demands and competition
represented by a global market?
Many are looking at ways to modify
existing processes and examining
methods to push the limits of new technologies.
For example, yarn configuration
can be optimized in certain products
to achieve flame or cut resistance.
In knitted products, for instance,
the knitting structure can be changed
within specific sections of the glove to
improve comfort and performance or
minimize hand fatigue. Varying the
stitching over the knuckles can increase
flexibility and reduce hand fatigue.
Post-knitting treatments such as
finishes may be applied to both sides
of a glove, with different treatments on
each side. Finishes also can be localized
to enhance the protection in a certain
area. Technology providers continue to
pursue intellectual property protection
for these types of breakthrough products
and processes to reduce the likelihood
Growing Emphasis on
'Green' Materials, Processes
Emphasis on green manufacturing processes,
green technologies, and sustainability
continues to grow among glove
manufacturers and has resulted, in part,
from consumers' support of green, environmentally
friendly products. Green
manufacturing is not a short-lived fad
that may disappear in a few years. It is
a mandate that is claiming center stage
among hand protection product manufacturers,
regulators, and marketers.
The textile product manufacturing
industry, including the production
of safety gloves, by its very nature
can have major ecological and social
impacts. Glove manufacturers are becoming
greener by using renewable
resources such as sun and wind power.
They are reducing costs by using less
water and decreasing their consumption
of nonproductive electricity. They
are also implementing water treatment
processes and strictly adhering to effluent
Many companies are considering
options to reduce the amount of scrap
they produce and to decrease their
reliance on petrochemically derived
resources. There is renewed emphasis
on improved fibers and new sources of
Post consumer recyclate (PCR), for
example, is derived from recycled soda and water bottles and is gaining popularity
as a valuable raw material. Demand
is also increasing for fibers such as biopolymers
based on starch, cellulose, and
polylactic acid (PLA), which are used in
The growing demand for greener
products and processes likely will lead to
new manufacturing processes that support
branded manufacturers committed
to using environmentally preferable alternatives
rather than petroleum-based
Availability of Technologically
How soon customers will see products
incorporating new technologies in the
marketplace will depend on the technology
and the cost of commercialization.
Some technologies, such as fibers from
PCR, are already commercially available
and could move quickly into the marketplace.
Other technologies may work
well in a laboratory setting but may not
be economically feasible for commercial
Testing is critical to new product development
and is used to verify product
quality and specification compliance.
The growing potential for engineered
yarns emphasizes the need for expanded
testing for tensile, cut, puncture, and
abrasion resistance. Adding functions
to gloves, such as antimicrobial qualities
or moisture management, will push
the limits of exiting test methods and
researchers' ability to correlate lab test
results with actual performance.
Workers' hand protection needs continue
to change and evolve. Branded
manufacturers will respond by producing
quality products for niche and global
markets and employing a variety of
technologies developed with technology
partners committed to keeping workers
This article originally appeared in the June 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.