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(Reuters) - Johnson Controls International Plc (JCI.N), a manufacturer of products ranging from car batteries to heating equipment, is exploring a sale of its safety gear unit, Scott Safety, people familiar with the matter said on Friday.
The sale, which sources said could fetch as much as $2 billion, would free Johnson Controls from a non-core business and allow it to strengthen its balance sheet following its $14 billion merger last year with Tyco International Plc.
Johnson Controls is working with investment bank Centerview Partners Holdings LP, and is in the advanced stages of negotiations with potential acquirers, including Honeywell International Inc (HON.N) and 3M Co (MMM.N), the people said.
Should the negotiations prove successful, a deal could be announced as early as this month, the people added.
The sources asked not to be identified because the negotiations are confidential.
Johnson Controls declined to comment, as did Honeywell. 3M and Centerview did not respond to requests for comment.
Scott Safety manufactures respiratory and protective equipment and safety devices for firefighters, industrial workers, police squads and the military.
Safety equipment makers are emerging as popular assets in the eyes of investors and industrial conglomerates, as a pick-up in economic activity is expected to increase spending for such gear.
Shares of MSA Safety Inc (MSA.N), for example, a manufacturer of safety equipment such as supplied air respirators, have risen 55 percent in the last 12 months, versus a 19 percent rise in the S&P 500 Index .INX.
The largest acquisition in 3M's history was in the safety sector. 3M acquired safety equipment maker Capital Safety from private equity firm KKR & Co LP (KKR.N) in 2015 for about $2.5 billion.
Honeywell also has a division dedicated to protection equipment.
Johnson Controls said last month its latest quarterly organic sales growth fell short of its estimate, hurt by weakness in its building technologies and solutions business.
Last October, Cork, Ireland-domiciled Johnson Controls completed the spin-off of its automotive seating business, now known as Adient Plc (ADNT.N).
Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler