Human test participants track biometrics in Gore's environmental chamber.
At a facility in northern Maryland, engineers can now test the durability and comfort of fabrics in a flash storm or a raging fire, no matter what the outside temperature may be.
Material science company WL Gore has opened new biophysics and heat and flame protection laboratories that will help push its product testing capabilities to new levels, said Matthew Decker, global technical leader of the company’s comfort core group.
It revealed the new multi-million dollar facilities at a recent media event at its plant. The facilities were commissioned in fall 2016, after about a year of construction.
The labs allow Gore to more rigorously test products, such as its Gore-Tex waterproof and heat-resistant fabric membranes, which are used in uniforms across the U.S. military, foreign services and public safety fields.
The new biophysics laboratory enables the company to further focus on the comfort of its products, Decker said.
“We care about comfort before the rain, during the rain and after the rain,” he said.
The biophysics lab includes two new components: an environmental chamber that can recreate between 85 and 95 percent of the Earth’s environments, from a rainy day in Scotland to a breezy night in the Bahamas.
The chamber has the ability to simulate natural solar radiation, humidity, wind and temperature levels to reflect a complete solar cycle from sunrise to sunset, Decker said. Engineers collect data from manikins and from human test subjects, using treadmills and skin sensors to track their performance and comfort levels.
Another new component is an upgraded rain tower that can test Gore products in realistic rainfall scenarios, from a light drizzle to a torrential downpour. It can simulate rainfall of up to 3 inches per hour, water and air temperatures ranging from 41 degrees to 77 degrees Fahrenheit and wind speed of up to 5 miles per second.
A new heat and flame protection laboratory will allow Gore engineers to maximize end-users’ functional effectiveness in a wide range of heat and flame exposures, according to the company.
Shawn Riley, global technical leader for heat and flame protection at Gore, said this is the first time the team has combined research and development, product development and quality control all in one laboratory. It is four times bigger than its predecessor and designed for rapid product development.
The cone calorimeter fireproof tester at Gore's new heat and flame protection lab
“This is a significant size increase to … help us really study the things that matter” for fire protection, he said.
New capabilities include the cone calorimeter, which measures heat release characteristics of finished fabrics more thoroughly than a traditional vertical flame test over a Bunsen burner.
“The Bunsen burner, that flame, nowhere near matches the effects of” a flashover fire, Riley said. “This device actually matches that same heat flux.”
Comfortable clothing can be a crucial factor in how well a public safety officer or soldier performs under stress, he said.
“Keeping people comfortable while in gear can minimize distractions and thus injuries,” he said.
In addition to its military and public safety customers, Gore provides laminates, adhesives, and shoe and glove inserts for manufacturers of commercial brands including Patagonia, North Face and Adidas.Photos: Gore