28 August 2009 12:40 [Source: ICB]
Without chemicals, the armed forces and emergency services would find it far tougher to do their jobs
THERE'S NO doubt that the military and emergency services do a sterling job, but would it be possible without products supplied by the chemical sector?
Rugged, resilient and reliable, the uniforms donned by the police, fire service, coast guard and the military often make the difference between life and death.
Whether it's running into burning buildings, confronting an armed assailant or providing urgent medical attention, personal protective equipment has to be up to the job.
The sector is big business and has enormous potential. According to a report by UK-based market analysts Textiles Intelligence, the global market is worth more than €10bn/year ($14bn/year) and helps to protect over 140m people in Europe alone.
Firefighters need protection from flames, smoke and heat; materials that are resistant to high temperatures and the most extreme conditions are therefore essential. Boots, gloves and coats all have to be rugged and waterproof, and the helmets tough enough to withstand sudden impact. Clothing resistant to chemical spillages and hazardous materials is also vital.
Things have certainly changed over the years. Not too long ago, the fire service relied on cork hats and woolen socks, whereas they now use tough carbon fiber helmets and fireproof tunics that are resistant to intense heat.
Coast guards, meanwhile, need to be mobile, with quick-drying garments that maintain warmth when wet.
Medical staff require clothing that is both hygienic and easy to clean, while the police have to have uniforms that protect their users against violence while remaining lightweight enough to allow them to give chase.
Perhaps the most demanding application, however, is for the armed forces, which need durable clothing to suit almost any environment and situation. Fibers have to be weather resistant, hard-wearing and comfortable, while defending the user from harm.
Advances in material technology continue to revolutionize working practices and provide even greater protection to the wearer. Here are a few examples of some of the latest innovations.
Ideal for the military or law enforcement, Dutch fibers producer DSM Dyneema has created a strong polyethylene (PE) fiber that is up to 15 times stronger than steel and up to 40% stronger than aramid (aromatic polyamide) fibers, on a weight-for-weight basis.
Dyneema HB80 is a composite that provides lightweight but incredibly tough protection for armor applications. It can be used in helmets as a lightweight alternative to conventional headgear, helping to protect the user from shrapnel and bullets.
The company claims it can provide 40-50% weight savings compared with existing aramid helmets.
Dyneema has numerous other applications, such as gloves that offer hand and arm protection or lightweight vests. These defend the wearer from both bullets and knives, and are also resistant to fire, water, ultraviolet rays and chemicals. Additional protection from heavier weaponry is available by adding separate Dyneema plate inserts.
Kevlar XP, from US chemical giant DuPont is used to make protective vests, 11 layers thick. The material is designed to stop the impact of a bullet with the first three layers, while the remaining eight absorb its energy - ideal for use by the police or military. DuPont says this typically provides a 15% reduction in trauma to the wearer.
The company's Nomex On Demand patented smart fiber technology, meanwhile, offers greater protection to firefighters and will be available globally later this year.
When exposed to temperatures above 250e_SDgrF (121e_SDgrC), it automatically swells to three to four times the original thickness, to increase its thermal insulation by up to 20%.
In normal conditions, the thermal liners in the uniform made from Nomex On Demand remain thin and in no way limit the user's mobility.
DuPont's Nomex flame-resistant fiber was introduced in 1967. The company estimates that some 70% of the thermal protection in a firefighter's turnout coat is provided by materials containing Nomex and Kevlar.
Firefighters and hazardous material teams can also use Tychem, which is used to make protective suits. Tychem is lighter than a typical encapsulated suit and has been tested against more than 240 chemicals, making it ideal for chemical, biological or radioactive incidents. It is extremely durable and boasts tear, puncture and abrasion resistance.
Medical clothing not only has to be comfortable and hard-wearing but technological advances mean it can also remain incredibly hygienic, even after lengthy work shifts.
US-based AEGIS Environments offers its Microbe Shield technology, which can be applied to medical clothing to prevent the growth of an amazingly wide array of bacteria, mold, mildew, algae and other microbes.
The company claims its silane-bound antimicrobial technology to be unique as it physically ruptures the cell walls of microbes without using poisons. AEGIS Microbe Shield technology molecular spikes are long chains of atoms that are large enough to pierce the cell walls of microbes. These chains carry a strong positive charge that attracts negatively charged bacteria.
US firm Dow Fiber Solutions - a Dow Chemical business - has developed DOW XLA stretch fiber, the world's first and only olefin-based stretch fiber. Resistant to both high temperatures and harsh chemicals used in industrial laundering, the material is hard-wearing and ideal for protective work-wear and uniforms.
An encapsulation process places an ultra-thin polymer around the individual woven fabric fibers to provide all-weather protection while maintaining breathability of the clothing and not restricting movement or comfort.
Fabrics with DOW XLA can be combined with TREVIRA Bioactive technology to add antibacterial properties for medical and health care garments.
Dow Corning's DS-9000 Eco Repel encapsulated silicone additive helps to improve the softness of the textile without affecting its fire resistance. The technology allows apparel manufacturers to increase softness and repel water without diminishing flame retardancy.
Rhodia UK, the UK arm of French specialty chemical company Rhodia, first developed its PROBAN flame retardant in 1955 for children's sleepwear and it is now used in protective clothing for industrial and military applications.
The process makes cotton and cotton-rich fabrics fire-resistant by forming a cross-linked inert polymer within the fiber. A char forms when exposed to flame, creating a protective layer. Treated fabrics do not smolder, have no afterglow, do not melt and the flame does not spread outside the charred area.
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