High tech in workwear signifies opportunities for Professional Textile Care: The latest Trends in the field of PPE
High-tech clothing, fitted out with integrated safety systems, is definitely becoming a reality. A whole new world has opened for professionals in the field of PTC.
Increasing Investments in Health and Safety
The importance of health and safety is recognized by virtually all companies nowadays. We can see an increasing understanding and conviction among decision-takers that safety and health have great economic impact. Companies are more and more inclined to take the view that investments in health and safety are valuable.
Lighter, Tougher, Sustainable
A clearly visible trend is that the weight of clothing becomes lighter and lighter. Virtually all manufacturers are into developments for decreasing the weight of textiles while maintaining their functionalities. At the same time, materials have become a lot tougher. Another important trend is sustainability. First of all, this trend is the result of the increased awareness of companies of their responsibility in the field of sustainability.
Cleaning Textiles for PPE’s
Another clearly visible trend is that clients do not wish to be responsible for the cleaning of textile themselves. That does not need much of an explanation. The drying of a wet suit is one thing, ensuring that it keeps its fire retarding characteristics is quite something else. More and more, textile care professionals can prove their added value.
Clothing acquires more functionalities. Clothing becomes more specialist. The fabrics become more and more complex. In addition, workwear needs to comply with legislation that is increasingly stringent, especially within the European Union. All issues that generally do not belong to the core activities of the clients of professional textile care. Professional textile care offers specific services in the field of hygiene and quality management. Companies buy the workwear and outsource its care to professional textile cleaners, who can offer this service in a rental or lease model. Textile care companies can offer good cleaning and treatment. In the end, the life cycle of textile will be extended.
The idea behind a workwear Hohenstein research program was that, so far, the development of workwear mainly took place as part of PPE - Personal Protective Equipment. Realization is slowly dawning that both the suit – with body protection as its main function – and the underlying layers must be well adjusted to allow a person to perform optimally in these clothes. A U.S. study has shown earlier that nearly half of all firefighters sometimes have to deal with "heat stress". Not by the external circumstances that are simply part of the job, but because their bodies simply cannot lose enough heat in their firefighters’ suits. The final and dramatic consequence is that the fireman who experiences this cannot perform properly anymore. Hohenstein’ s study researched how the human body tries to cool. This gives textile a multitude of tasks. It should protect against external heat , insulate and breathe at the same time so that the excess moisture can be drained quickly through sweating.
New fire-resistant and flame-retardant clothing will increasingly be made of PTFE/Aramid. This material provides sufficient protection, moisture control and optimum body insulation. Under the name of SensProCloth, a new research consortium started to develop clothing that will offer improved support to people working in disaster control and management, firefighting or otherwise extreme conditions.
This involves a development beyond fabric alone. Clothing is equipped with integrated systems that collect data in a variety of ways. Sensors are continuously analyzing the conditions outside the clothing: temperature, humidity, but also the presence of toxic substances. Other sensors measure internal variables, the wearer’s. These systems monitor heart rate, blood pressure, perspiration and body temperature. Finally, the clothing fitted out with communication systems so that the wearer of these clothes can always contact a colleague or .... the systems in the clothing performs this action in the absence of any reaction by the wearer.
One of the solutions to keep the suit as light as possible is to put the functions in the suit and the protective functions in the underlying layers close to the skin. On the other hand, sensors that measure internal variables should be as close as possible to the skin. SensProCloth incorporated a number of sensors in underwear. Tests were performed with ‘Thermo -Men', exposing clothing to more than a thousand degrees Celsius for 8 seconds. In addition, clothing was tested in several simulations with professional firefighters. These tests showed that the clothes, including underwear, are indeed suitable for daily work. Perhaps more important: this clothing can be cleaned normally, i.e. industrially. The electronics remained intact.
Materials such as Kevlar, Gore-Tex and similar products have been known on the market for a long time. The new thing is what a manufacturer adds to or does with these materials. And, above all: how do they make the final garment as light as possible? The striking thing about the many PPE garments nowadays is that they allow for free movements. The highlight in this respect is of course the morph suit: an invention of two Scots who designed, as a joke, a suit enveloping the body, including the head. This suit is made of highly elastic material, giving the impression as if it really is a second skin. Nice, but entering a chemical plants or jumping into a fire dressed like this is very strongly not recommended. Actually, that is not the purpose of this suit.
The international attention for PPE is increasing, like in Turkey. Turkey has a worker’s population of 23 million, making it a potential PPE market for many European suppliers. At the moment, workwear in Turkey is really in its infancy, as the Turkish Minister for Labor and Safety, Halil Etyemez admitted. In 2015, Turkey might join the European Union and that means that Turkey has quite some catching up to do.
Care and nanotechnology
In addition to ergonomic risks, the risks of health care personnel have mainly to do with infection and such: biological risks infecting employees, chemical risks especially in the case of cancer treatment and its methods, and also physical risks when health care staff is exposed to radiation. What is new in this respect is the focus on the risks associated with the use of nanotechnology in healthcare. Nanotechnology is increasingly used in healthcare and for a wider variety of applications, such as for the inserting medication, diagnosis and treatment of particular types of cancer.
This area is exactly where textile care professionals have a role to play. By now, the sector has extensive experience in protective textiles for various sectors. The textile care industry has learned to estimate risks, in cooperation with experts, it has the knowledge of the materials available on the textile market, it can play its part in how PPE’s can be implemented and how processes for maintaining PPE can be secured so that is will keep complying to worldwide, European and national standards.
The German Agency for Safety and Health presented shocking figures. In Germany, almost thirteen days for illness or accidents must be calculated for each employee each year. In 2011, this resulted in a total of 461 million days on which people could not work because of illness or accidents. Economic damages: 45 billion. It is not without reason that safety and health are high on the German political agenda.
Gold is in for a reason. PBI Matrix, as this gold material is called, is the result from its use by the U.S. space agency NASA. As early as in the eighties, this type of fabric has been used at NASA in suits worn by astronauts who are transported out of the atmosphere, and since a few years, it is applied more and more in fire-resistant and flame-retardant suits. The Amsterdam Fire Brigade, for instance, is dressed in gold and sand colored textiles nowadays.
The top layer of the suit is made by Lion in Germany, which in turn processes 'Milennia Light', manufactured by the Dutch company TenCate. This top layer mainly consists of Kevlar, but is combined with Gore-Tex Fire blocker and heat-insulating material used in space travel: the end result is super light-weight, but still provides maximum insulation and protection. Subsequently, 3M added reflective strips made of breathable material. The resulting product is Lion V-Force protective clothing.
Professional Cleaning of Innovative Fire Brigade Suits
Lion advises against cleaning these suits themselves. That is why Lion cooperates with textile care professionals under the label 'Lion Total Care ' and ' TEXPORT'. The suits are collected, cleaned, repaired and returned. In addition, all maintenance is documented for each suit, so that it becomes much easier to determine textile life-cycles, for example.
High-tech clothing is going through profound developments at the moment. Technology and textiles will find each other. Emergency personnel will get their communication tools fitted into equipment on the body. PPE will be equipped with sensors measuring all kinds of bodily functions. Built-in LEDs and lights for better visibility and sight. This trend continues unabated.
The biggest trend in the field of smart textiles are conductive materials allowing energy to be saved and even generated. The most appealing example are the solar cells that can be integrated into textiles. Problem remains the conductive material itself. Usually, semi-conductors and connections are still made of metal: not easy to integrate into textile. Not to mention its maintenance. The main effort of the industry for e-textiles in the years to come will be getting the metal out of textiles. Solutions for this are 'organic fiber transistors ', conductive fibers that contain no metal. The materials and techniques have been around for a while, but have some difficulty finding their way to the market. Reason: high development and processing costs. The entire chain needs to be involved. Fibers like this should be developed in such a way that they can be used over and over, cleaned industrially and so becomes sustainable both in the development stages itself and maintenance.
Growth market PPE
In spite of the economic recovery in Europe, companies are still very cautious with respect to investments. Health and safety are priorities, fortunately. There is a whole world to win here.
Comfort is key
Can we make a prediction for 2015? The trends as described above, will continue. Individualism, translated into far-reaching customization of PPE and workwear. Comfort is key in workwear. Manufacturers peel off more and more layers of existing garments. Or just add very thin layers. As long as the goal is attained: comfort and light-weight. The latter becomes crucial, especially because the integration of technology set the pace for an opposite direction, one in which clothing becomes heavier. Conducting membranes with electronic circuits, communication cells, solar collectors on the shoulders, sensors. However slight, they still add weight.
Added value of Professional Textile Care in the entire business chain
The integration of technical innovations in textile will definitely become a reality. How do you maintain that kind of textile? How do companies make sure that they always have those supplies stocked in sufficient quantities? The market will shift from disposables to high-tech workwear.
Professional textile service companies have something to say in the field of legislation as well. They have years of experience with the implementation of standards and guidelines within the chain. All industries within the textile chain will be faced with those standards and guidelines. New standards are added continuously, such as the application of nanotechnology in health care. Wonderful developments in the world of medicine, but having an enormous impact on the staff that has to work with it. Clinical cleaning alone will no longer be enough.
The economic situation is recovering, with an increase in investments. New markets present themselves, both functionally and geographically. Markets change. People become scarcer. Literally, because of demographic developments and aging. Resources become scarcer. We are moving towards a sustainable society, in which we need to be very careful with resources and people. The need for optimum protection will just keep on growing. Thanks to chain management, technology and a permanent awareness of the use and necessity of that protection, excellent workwear will remain the center of professional safety and health.