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Fabric of research

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Tuesday 14 May 2013 12:16pm

A better understanding of how fabrics perform – and why – is the aim of new research being conducted at Otago’s Department of Applied Sciences (Clothing and Textile Sciences) with the help of funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Wool Industry Research Ltd and industry partners.

The funding of around $860,000 will pay for two projects, one investigating sock fabrics and the other textiles in sleep environments. Both are expected to be completed in mid-late 2014.

Professor Raechel Laing will lead the foot coverings study, which seeks to determine whether differences in sock fabrics (fibre type, structure) affect the health of skin on the foot. The second part of the study is focused on how foot odour develops and is retained as a result of various foot coverings.

“We’ll explore when the foot is enclosed, which organisms develop and survive on sock materials, and the extent to which they contribute to odour,” says Laing.

“Some test methods we use are similar to those used with food and wine – sampling and identifying volatiles instrumentally, and also using human detection.”

The second project is a collaboration with an Australian team led by senior research scientist Dr Geoff Naylor, from Victoria’s CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering in Geelong. It aims to investigate and explain the performance (specifically in terms of heat and moisture transfer) of a range of different duvet fills (wool batting, wool knops, feather/down and polyester). The study also has industry partners in Australia and New Zealand, including FibreTech New Zealand, while local Dunedin company Ellis Fibre will help with developing samples for the study.

“The world sock market generally is very large, especially the growing specialist sock market. By better understanding the science – fibre and fabric effects – relevant industry groups are better able to develop and modify products,” says Laing.

“The sleep environment study is similar. There are many types of fill but, while we know heat transfer is primarily related to thickness, we do not understand the moisture transfer through these fill types. Generally, consumers are attracted to the most expensive, but does that mean best performing?”

In both studies, the researchers will develop and modify samples where all factors other than those under investigation are controlled, so as to compare like with like.

Laing says the results of both studies will be made available to industry.

“Essentially we’re working with the industry groups as part of their ‘laboratory’."

“In both cases, we spend the first part developing the materials and we’re very fortunate to have our agreement with Ellis Fibre to produce samples for us.

“Associate Professor Cheryl Wilson, a named collaborator in both investigations, and I have worked with industry over many years and we’re delighted to have another opportunity. These projects also provide opportunities for postgraduate students.”

Two significant and similar projects were investigations into the efficacy of personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE) 
used in the inherently hazardous workplaces of the New Zealand Fire Service (NZFS) and the forestry/logging industries. Laing says that anthropometric data gathered formed the basis of new product sizing systems – and, in the case of NZFS, ultimately product specification and purchase – as the effectiveness of PPE depends partly on the relationship between body and product dimensions.

“During our work with the forestry sector, over-heating of the head and face under the protective helmet also became evident. We developed a vented helmet in which the optimal location and dimensions of the vents were identified in the laboratory, and confirmed through human trials under controlled conditions.

“Findings from this study have influenced helmet standards and the development of helmets by selected manufacturers.”