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Wool may provide protection & comfort to soldiers

07
Feb '12
Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center has contracted for several efforts with the American Sheep Industry Association and its subsidiary, Sheep Venture Company, to develop, test and evaluate wool fabrics for combat clothing.

The decision to take a second look at wool as a high-performance fiber was due to improvised explosive device, or IED, issues in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wool, due to its molecular structure, is very resilient, fire-resistant, has good strength, and is durable. It dyes very well, retains its color, and has very good moisture management properties.

"We can enhance wool's inherent properties by engineering high-performance fiber blends and fabric structures. It all begins with the wool fiber fineness, where some breeds of sheep and what they are fed directly affect the wool fiber diameter and flexibility," said Carole Winterhalter, textile technologist for NSRDEC.

"In the military world, Natick is recognized as working on cutting-edge technologies in support of all Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. Work done at Natick is thorough and credible," said Mitchell Driggers, program manager for Sheep Venture Company, or SVC, and government contracting consultant of the American Sheep Industry, known as ASI.

"Natick provides the expertise of textile technologists to engineer optimized individual clothing for the field," Winterhalter said.

In 2009 NSRDEC selected three organizations for Phase I Small Business Innovation Research contracts specifically calling for shrink-resistant treatments for wool. SVC received the Phase II contract and created different wool shrink-resist techniques through chemical and enzyme-based technologies. Subsequently, the sheep and wool industry spent its own funds to install a manufacturing line with energy-efficient equipment to run the shrink treatments.

This line accommodates multiple shrink treatment methods. SVC's washable wool line exceeded its production by more than 40 percent in the first year, and the company expects to double its production this year.

"The work done with Natick Labs is important because ASI is able to better understand the needs of all of the military services," said Rita Samuelson, wool marketing director for ASI. "Together, we can develop products that are functional and valuable to our servicemen and women."

ASI, a national trade organization supported by 45 state sheep associations, represents more than 82,000 sheep producers.

"Our ranchers prefer to sell their wool to domestic companies, and so we are continually looking for ways to increase American wool consumption at the mill level," Driggers said. "The innovations of Carole and her team put wool into a very competitive position that should lead to an overall increase in American wool use by the military. Additionally, new products introduced to the military have immediate commercial applications that further improve business for everyone involved with U.S. wool."


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