Henkel Qhesive Solutions creates market-ready solutions for Smart Adult Care


With an ageing population and increasing demand for adult care, smart solutions are a key element in making personal care better, all while ensuring discretion and dignity for the users of incontinence products. Henkel (Düsseldorf, Germany) has embraced this vision and turned the challenge into an opportunity: as part of its digital solution offering, Henkel is introducing Smart Adult Care.

It is the result of a partnership with Smartz AG a medical technology company and pioneer in this emerging market. Smartz understood already a decade ago that adult incontinence products would become smart IoT products monitoring the needs of wearers in real-time. Developed by Smartz and Henkel Qhesive Solutions, Smart Adult Care is a complete turn-key solution that allows manufacturers of mass market hygiene products to adapt traditional product lines rapidly and cost-effectively into smart healthcare solutions – providing additional value to both wearers and caregivers.

A sensor printed in the diaper measures moisture level. This data is transmitted via a reusable clip-on device to a phone, a tablet or another digital tool used by the caregiver. This clip-on device, commonly called a pod, is attached to the front of the diaper. It also keeps track of the position of the wearer and can monitor and alert for falls. This enables timely notification of when a change is needed or if a patient needs to be moved to help prevent bed sores or pressure injuries, or if the wearer had a fall. Smart Adult Care is an end-to-end solution that includes cloud-based data analytics featuring apps providing information to caregivers. Thanks to its individual goal setting capabilities, Smart Adult Care enables proactive caregiving. Using individual, historical data on daily miction output for example the hydration level of a patient can be monitored.

Smart Adult Care improves quality of life for the patient as it enables caregiving to act upon individual needs rather than according to set schedules. It prevents the distress related to delayed changes and too frequent checks. This is especially relevant for patients who are unable to communicate their needs.

For caregivers, the ability to know when care is needed is truly transformational. Changing an immobile adult requires five to ten minutes of minimum two caregivers. Eliminating unnecessary changes improves patient well-being and permits a more efficient deployment of labour, a clear return-on-investment. “This concept immediately resonates with adult diaper manufacturers and nursing home managers alike. It is a true game changer in this market,” says Michel Verstraeten, global head of digital hygiene solutions, Henkel. “This solution brings benefits like discretion and dignity to the individual while unburdening the caregiver.”

Peter Curran, CTO of Smartz, describes how his company had developed and brought previous generations of a smart care solution to market: “Our first products for diaper management for incontinence have been in the market for around twelve years, so we have both commercial and regulatory experience.” While the concept has proven effective, Curran explains that a complete top-down rethink was needed to make the product viable for the volume markets: “For a sensing technology in a hygiene product to be successful, it has to come at a manageable additional cost, and it needs to be as simple and robust as possible for the end users. As single use disposable products, they need to be low cost to manufacture. We wanted to bring these insights together to create a cost-effective, failsafe, and intuitive solution that could potentially be used 24/7. That was the birth of the Smartz product – an everyday monitoring solution using a sensor design that could be printed at high speed.”

With so many components and systems coming together, partnership is vital. Henkel’s goal to foster and incubate collaborations of this exact nature led to launch of Henkel Qhesive Solutions. Henkel’s new brand for data-driven services combines the company’s long experience in material science and chemistry with intelligent analytics and expertise from partners such as Smartz to help elevate and improve existing products and processes.

For Smartz, this approach was a perfect fit. As well as drawing on Henkel’s expertise in printed electronics, Smartz was able to leverage Henkel’s existing relationships in the global hygiene industry. This offered a pathway to scale up Smart Adult Care while allowing Smartz to maintain a lean, technology-focused organisation. As Curran notes: “To globalise this solution, Henkel stood out as a perfect go-to-market partner. We could see Henkel’s global reach and its strong relationships with the hygiene industry as a supplier for specialty adhesives.” “We were able to create a win-win situation between Smartz and Henkel,” explains Stijn Gillissen, Henkel global head of printed electronics. “We had commercial channels to market the printed electronics technology, and they had the IT technology and sensing hardware. Together, we knew we could deliver a very successful solution.”

The companies worked together to develop the functionality and performance of the solution, which has now been successfully tested on the production lines of several diaper manufacturers. The tests have proved that smart hygiene products can be made on the same production line without retooling and at the same speed as existing products. “It was important that we could deliver a sensing solution that would not require manufacturers to make changes to their plants and equipment to produce the solution,” notes Curran. “The methodology for printing at high speed is now established.” Henkel’s Verstraeten agrees that the key to adoption is simplifying the process for manufacturers: “We could see the potential to move customers from a traditional diaper product to a smart product in a relatively short amount of time. There is no need for machine, line or process modifications nor significant capital expenditure - especially compared to other solutions being developed on the market.”

For established manufacturers of hygiene products, Smart Adult Care offers a way to digitalize conventional products with minimal investment: a comprehensive smart offering can be brought to market without in-house R&D to develop the hardware or software. The most significant addition to the diaper is the functional ink that forms a printed sensing substrate on an existing component of the product. As the sensing technology is printed onto one of the existing layers – in this case the back sheet film – switching between normal products and smart products is as simple as substituting a conventional roll of material with a roll that has been printed with conductive inks. For back sheet manufacturers who are used to graphic printing, changing to conductive printing is relatively easy. Adding printed electronics is cost-effective. Printing speeds of up to 400 m/min are possible ensuring that printed electronics are cost-effective.

In addition to the physical diaper, Henkel’s Gillissen notes that creating a comprehensive smart hygiene solution does require further steps to ensure that it works with the pod hardware and analytics software: “Each absorbent product is unique, with different ratios of materials and different levels of absorbency, or with different designs. The Smartz algorithms used in the software are optimised through a calibration process of the individual SKU for the best possible accuracy in use.”

Caption: Printed electronics can be used to create a moisture sensor on thin and flexible materials. Henkel’s portfolio of adhesives solutions and conductive inks enable the introduction of smart solutions for the hygiene industry worldwide (photo: Henkel)

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