Exclusive Interview: Jason Traynor, General Manager, MSA Safety talks delivering durability

Jason Traynor

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Jason Traynor, General Manager at MSA Safety, speaks exclusively with IFSJ about the company’s move into the fire protective clothing market and its plan for Interschutz

In 2017, MSA acquired Globe Manufacturing, marking its entrance into fire protective clothing for the North American market. Speaking to MSA Safety General Manager Jason Traynor, he says they learned a lot through that first acquisition and began developing a deeper understanding of how the company could influence the overall system of products worn by firefighters.

In the years that followed the Globe acquisition, MSA recognised the benefits of having a head-to-toe system for fire-fighting attire and set about creating a cohesive collection of products that, when combined, would work together to make the end-user experience as comfortable as possible without sacrificing the necessary safety features. To make this a reality, MSA acquired UK manufacturer Bristol Uniforms.

“We were very excited and anxious to enter the European norm fire protective gear market,” tells Traynor. “We wanted to get into the EMEA market, but we knew that for us to build it ourselves and start from scratch would be a really long path.”

Prior to the Bristol Uniforms acquisition, MSA was working the UK on building new breathing apparatus – the MSAM1 – and was getting input from the local market with end-users, working closely with customers in different areas of the region to gain insights into their specific wants and needs. Through this research, says Traynor, they learned a lot about the fire service in the UK and saw an opportunity to acquire the UK manufacturer and immediately gain a strong foothold in the fire protective gear market in a new region. In January 2021, MSA acquired Bristol Uniforms.

“We were really excited about the brand and the people that came through with the acquisition that are working to design garments, manufacture, and service the product,” Traynor enthuses. “There’s a lot of passion around fire protection clothing around MSA Bristol and we’re excited to be along that journey with them.”

Looking at competitors in the market, MSA realised there were very few multi-national competitors taking an all-in-one approach. The MSA team already has a well-established, high-performing sales team and channel partner network throughout Europe, the Middle East and the Asia Pacific – teams that have been selling breathing apparatus and fire helmets for many years.

“We were really excited to introduce our teams to Bristol Uniforms fire protective clothing,” says Traynor. “To have them better understand the complexities of fire protective clothing, to be able to go to their customers and clients with longstanding relationships with and let them know that they can come to MSA for this important product that’s part of our portfolio as well.”

The X4

As with any company with a global reach, there is never a one-size-fits-all approach. Traynor says MSA recognised the need to understand the differences between the UK and central Europe, and the differences seen in different parts of the world. To do this, it carried out a ‘voice of the customer’ survey, asking the customer about their current experience, their current supplier, what they like about it, what would they change. This market research was carried out in 2021 and was used to inform and to design and build a new garment: the X4.

“We’re excited about the X4,” says Traynor. “We’ve built it with input from firefighters, we’ve gotten further input now that its complete. The market seems very excited about the approach that we’ve taken.

“We’ve looked certainly at thermal protection which is critical. Durability and wash cycles are critical, but comfort and breathability is also very important – those are the things when we look at design of a new garment. How it feels when worn and having that end user at the centre of the design is critical for us.”

MSA uses a human centred design process, starting with the individual and building outwards. With the broader MSA portfolio of products, Traynor says it now has the luxury of going to an end user and saying: “We’ll supply you with the market leading helmet, we’ll supply you with this great new innovative fire protective clothing – we have that head-to-toe experience.”

Traynor says they are really happy about where MSA is today and thinks there is a lot of benefit to engaging with a supplier that is able to cover as many different product areas as possible. Looking to the future, its goal is ensuring it designs products that together are more valuable than the sum of the individual parts.

“This way, rather than buying four different manufacturers products, the end user is able to buy a series of products which when put together will make them think ‘wow this helmet was designed with the facepiece in mind’ or ‘the straps on my breathing apparatus engage really well with the material of my jacket’ – these are now things that we can plan for and design for and control a lot more variables than we were doing previously,” he explains.

In controlling these variables, he says it allows MSA to build a more efficient system hand in hand with firefighters, understanding their needs, the limitations of what they have today, and how together they can address those needs through product design, through material science, and overall understanding what it can do to make an inherently difficult and dangerous job a little bit more comfortable.

Looking at the broader MSA portfolio globally, it’s a world leader in breathing apparatus, in fire helmets and in fire protective clothing. With that, says Traynor, comes the responsibility building great products, continuing to engage with the end-users, driving innovation, and maintain its insight into the market. Key to this is understanding the unique factors about each market, but also identifying the common thread that can be brought between the international market.

“We look at it not only from a product standpoint, but also from a geographic standpoint and understanding differences and similarities,” he tells. “Building products that are unique to regional environments, we build in a manner that is well received, well regarded, and emphasised the benefits of having a cohesive product set.”

Regional requirements

The biggest consideration in producing a product across different regions are the local industry standards. Manufacturers have to cater to each regulatory body that define what materials can be used or how can the product be designed, and much of this is regulatory and required.

On top of this, each region will have its own unique environments, for example locations with underground subway systems will have a different set of requirements to that of a city with no underground at all.

Whilst all of these things must be considered, a key thread that MSA has recognised as running through all regions is cleanability – making sure that everything is not as porous as it used to be ensure that it holds up in terms of durability. “Durability is really important,” says Traynor. “Regionally it’s going to be different because some areas wash more, some wash less. Those are the kind of things that drive variants between the products are generally customer driven and we’re happy to help work towards a solution for their unique needs.”

Interschutz Focus

With one of the fire industry’s biggest conference events set to return to Germany this year after seven years away, since the last show MSA has undergone a huge transformation and launched and extensive range of new products – meaning that for lots of people meeting with them in person at Interschutz 2022 is going to look like an entirely different organisation.

“It’s almost like we’ve gone through a digital transformation from a pneumatic system and a mechanical helmet to this whole broad system of products, but also the software and the technology that allows them to be connected, taking all data from various different inputs, aggregating it, and sending it to the cloud,” he tells.

The whole digital transformation has been a significant investment for MSA, but one that has clear solutions for the end user for problems that it made the effort to understand, covering everything from fleet management, service, where a product is, and what it has been exposed to.

“These are all things that historically were lost after the incident, but we’re now able to capture that information and use that data to make things better for the future, whether it’s through product design, or whether it’s through an understanding and history of how your products were serviced – that data is going to be something that’s completely different and unique coming from MSA, that’s something we know that end users have a real thirst for and excitement around,” he says.

The key focus MSA will be driving at Interschutz will be its ownership of Bristol Uniforms and transition into a global architect in a new market. “The acquisition was completed in early 2021, and we spent the first 6-8 months in lockdown unable to get out and see customers, so brand awareness, awareness that MSA is a key player in this market, that we’re looking to understand the need of the EU customers – those are the key things when we’re thinking about our booth at Interschutz,” Traynor explains. “The highlight is we have a new product, we’re deeply engaged in fire protective clothing in this region, we’re working with all the key suppliers.

“It’s not like we’re a start up,” he adds. “We have a good history with fire protective clothing through the Globe acquisition, we have the legacy of Bristol. We’re not starting from scratch; we’re hitting the ground running and are happy about the momentum we’ve built over the first 18 months. Interschutz is by no means an endpoint – it’s more of a jumping off point for us, for the X4, and for what we intend to continue to invest in for Europe, the Middle East and for Asia Pacific.”

This article was originally published in the June edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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