Protective clothing key to safety in hazardous areas

Paul Boughton

Developments in textile technology are ensuring that protective clothing is now safer. Eugene McCarthy reports.

SABIC Innovative Plastics has announced that its versatile, high-performance Ultem polyetherimide (PEI) fibre has found an important new application in high-end work wear and protective clothing.

Japan Wool Textile, a division of NIKKE Group, is now blending Ultem fibre with wool and other materials to produce yarn, fabrics and garments that offer a novel combination of comfort and protection, including permanent, non-halogenated flame retardance (FR) and excellent ultraviolet (UV) resistance.

Unlike traditional aramid materials, Ultem fibre can be easily and cost-effectively coloured in a wide range of shades using conventional polyester dyeing processes, enabling Japan Wool Textile to enhance the aesthetic appeal of its new line.

SABIC Innovative Plastics continues to penetrate and grow new market segments and expand the range of applications for its Ultem resin technology to give customers innovative new options for product differentiation and exceptional performance.

"The work wear and protective clothing sector has outgrown traditional materials, and our Ultem fibre offers a significantly better option," said Kim Choate, global product marketing manager, SABIC Innovative Plastics. "This flexible, soft and colourable fibre provides superior comfort and aesthetics, plus sustainable FR technology and the highest level of protection and durability for workers in safety-focused industries such as oil and gas and chemicals.

"We foresee many other uses for this versatile fibre, which has already broken new ground in composite aerospace boards for aviation interiors, filtration media and other demanding applications."

"Following a rigorous development process, we launched a completely new flame-retardant material by using Ultem fibre," said Takanobu Matsumoto, general manager, Japan Wool Textile.

"Particularly in the areas of improved comfort and colourability, our new work wear products will provide major benefits for customers and address unmet market needs. This SABIC Innovative Plastics technology has also helped us to establish an overseas market for our work wear."[Page Break]

Shirts, trousers, jackets

Japan Wool Textile currently offers shirts, trousers, jackets and coveralls in an Ultem fibre-rich blend, as well as yarn and woven fabrics (Fig. 1).

Ultem fibre's novel combination of properties fills a longstanding need in the high-end work wear marketplace. Traditional work wear, particularly clothes made from meta-aramids, are stiff and uncomfortable. They also are difficult to dye, thus limiting the ability to produce custom-coloured items that support a company's brand.

In contrast, Ultem fibre is soft and flexible for improved wearability, and can be dyed in many different colours using existing infrastructure, helping to drive down system costs. It resists degradation from UV light, making the material a potential candidate for outdoor wear.

The fibre is inherently and permanently flame retardant. It utilises proprietary technology that avoids the addition of environmentally hazardous halogens and cannot wash out of the garment, as many FR agents in low-end fabrics can.

This material offers excellent heat resistance meeting the European Union (EU) EN 531/ISO 11612 and US National Fire and Protection Association (NFPA) 2112 standards, and provides low smoke and toxicity performance.

High-performance thread

In the Netherlands, Amann Group has launched a new high-performance sewing thread called Xtreme-Tech. It is based on Dyneema, the ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) fibre from DSM.

The new thread has already won an innovation award at the annual Techtextil technical textiles fair in Frankfurt.

The development of Xtreme-Tech was prompted by initial demand from Amann's aerospace customer AmSafe, which is now employing it to develop super strong cargo restraint systems for freighter aircrafts. In such an application Dyneema fibre can provide sewing thread with the highest tensile strength and the most durable seams - traditionally a potential weak spot in such products.

Special twisting, coating and colouring techniques were developed by Amann to come up with Xtreme-Tech, which retains its ultimate strength while being easy to both process and to be dyed.

As one of the biggest global sewing thread producers in the world, Amann has also signed a strategic trademark agreement with DSM Dyneema for the global marketing and sale of Xtreme-Tech and other new products the two companies aim to jointly develop.

"Building on this success, we aim to further work together with DSM Dyneema to bring such sustainable and innovative products to the market," said Robin Hefter, Amann regional sales manager "The AmSafe development is likely to be only the first of many applications for this new product and marks just the start of what we believe we can achieve together."[Page Break]

Protective clothing is believed to be one such application.

For its part, Lac-Mac offers a range of liquid splash protective clothing incorporating GORE chemical splash fabric. Available in jackets, overalls and coveralls, these specialty garments are well suited to low vapour pressure liquid challenges such as: acids and bases; aqueous solutions; polymers; select organic solvents; and heat-transfer fluids. They are also durable, reusable, light-weight and breathable, providing what the company describes as superior protection and unrivalled comfort to the user.

Certified to the NFPA 1992 standard on liquid splash-protection ensembles and clothing for hazardous materials emergencies 2005 edition, these garments are available with standard polyester outer shell, or in Nomex IIIa which provides additional limited chemical flash-fire protection.

In terms of other features and benefits, Lac-Mac's products: resist penetration of many liquid chemicals; have good breathability, reduce heat stress and improve productivity; have a tough, durable three-layer laminate provides long lasting garment life; have seams sealed with GORE-SEAM tape providing overall penetration resistance; and decrease costs over time because they are both washable and reusable.

To assist users in determining the proper applications for protective clothing, Lac-Mac colour codes different chemicals. For example, green represents liquid splash hazards as defined by NFPA 1992 Standards. GORE chemical splash fabric passes the penetration test for chemicals printed in green.

Yellow denotes that the chemicals represent both potential vapour and liquid splash hazards. Here GORE chemical splash fabric should only be used in controlled situations if vapour exposure is acceptable. "Consult a trained professional in industrial safety or hygiene when making this determination. Failure to comply with this warning may result in serious injury or death," notes the company. A red colour code means that GORE chemical splash fabric fails the penetration test for such chemicals.[Page Break]

Heat stress

Lac-Mac particularly emphasises the dangers of heat stress: "Heat stress is a serious hazard to wearers of chemical protective clothing. In some cases, heat stress may be even more dangerous than the chemical hazard itself. To release heat, your body sweats, and when the sweat evaporates, your body is cooled. Film materials such as vinyl or rubber protect against accidental contact with liquid chemicals but do not provide relief from heat stress. GORE chemical splash fabric provides liquid splash protection while maintaining comfort. Clothing made from this fabric allows your body to breathe, so your sweat can evaporate through the GORE membrane, providing you with some relief from heat stress. Because it is light and comfortable it generally can be worn for a full shift without excessive overheating."

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