Making Products that Protect

Technical footwear and garments use blends of dissimilar materials to make products that protect

By PETE ROY  Senior Technical Officer (Mechanical), LASRA
Garments and footwear for sporting, industrial, emergency services, or military uses are designed, built, and used in special ways. They have to do their job in harsh or high stress environments. Chances are these products are charged with the task of protection from harm, be it in the name of fun and breaking records, or for preserving and protecting life.


These protective products can be regarded as technical garments or footwear, and are often blends of materials to form an integral part of an overall ensemble. These ensembles allow people to enter or operate in environments where an unprotected person would certainly face injury. Here we take a few examplesand look at the various material combinations of each to show how they can be mixed or blended to offer performance at the very highest levels.


Sports: Motorcycle Track Racing

Motorcycle race leathers are highly specialized products. They are made with a durable leather outer layer to resist track or in-field abrasion in the event of an “off.” Special pads protecting against impact are incorporated into racing leathers by sewing them into the garment at the body joints. Significant research goes into protecting the rider’s body, including an unsightly hump structure on the upper back, built to prevent the helmeted head of the rider snapping backward in a crash, which can lead to catastrophic neck injury. Special sheets and panels the length of the spine help prevent spinal injury. These must be joined to the dissimilar material of the main garment by sewing, cementing, or moulding so that the protective panel cannot come loose or fail.


External sacrificial non-stick pads for knee, outer foot, and elbow (sometimes also found on boots) combine to allow for speed and control of the machine in cornering. Note that at the top level of track racing in this sport, lean angles of 64 degrees from vertical are typical. By sliding the machine though turns, under braking, or power on high grip tires, the rider heightens the potential for a fall as their knee, elbow, and possibly foot come in contact with the track. Boots are shaped to the foot, and in addition to the above, they can also have special grip pads for contact with the foot controls of the machine. Boots have ankle protectors, and sideways crush protectors.  All of these elements must remain in place and function as required, while not hindering the rider’s mobility.


Multisport and Extreme Multisport Events

Technical garments for conditions such as extreme hot, cold or wet weather may also have many unseen additional components which may be used to provide a specific property. Cutting edge nanotechnology can aid water resistance, heat retention, cold and antimicrobial resistance, and even freedom from washing, useful in the case of longer, more extreme, events, such as long alpine or trekking ventures. Multi-discipline events often require a “does-all” type of garment for swim, run, cycle or similar events. These may be enhanced with a multitude of properties designed and built in, like motion control, breathability for sweat, or quick dry for swim to cycle transition.


Occupational and Services

There is a crossover where sports meet occupational/industrial and service wear. Some occupations involve high levels of exposure to extreme weather. In some environments, protection is required from hazards like alpine cold, desert hot weather, prolonged high UV from the sun, wind, ice, and heavy rain—and there may be special construction requirements necessary to achieve this protection.


Oil, gas, and miningare occupations where people operate at climatic and situational extremes, but firefighters and first aid responders also need to operate in whatever conditions prevail. A firefighter’s equipment must be able to withstand chemical and biological threats as well as flame. A sudden flare can generate enough radiant heat to instantly turn sweat to steam, so moisture control is critical below the shell garment. A firefighter must be able to move well enough to respond to any situation to save property or life. Through all of these challenges, garments and footwear must be ergonomic and retain significant levels of function and appearance.


In the area of chainsaw protection for forestry workers, the leg-ware is made of bulky loose knitted/woven or non-woven inner pads of very tenacious fibre layers. They are made this way to foul the teeth and the sprocket of the chainsaw. This idea of ergonomic function can be achieved with a comfortable lining and tough breathable outer shell to protect against the elements outside, and sweat inside, while the inner webbing performs the safety function when required. Footwear used in forestry may be of special high skid rubber which the saw teeth can’t bite into. Leather is augmented with technology to repel or to foul the fast moving teeth of a chainsaw. Visibility and mobility are two further keys to the function of design.
For the complete article, please follow this link to AATC News, August 5 2014