Putting materials through the wringer at Natick
March 26, 2012
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NATICK, Mass. (March 26, 2012) -- Luisa DeMorais and her team will go to any lengths to make certain that the items service members wear and carry are performing to their full potential -- even if it means doing 96 loads of laundry in a single day.
DeMorais leads the Textile Materials Evaluation Team, or TMET, at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. The team members "evaluate and assess the performance of textile materials for use in military clothing and equipment," she said.
As DeMorais well knows, if items produced at Natick aren't comfortable and durable, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and homeland defenders won't wear or carry them. Her team uses the latest technologies available to ensure that materials meet the expected performance criteria so that service members are better able to do their jobs.
"We don't develop any of the materials," said DeMorais, who has been at Natick 31-plus years. "We test the materials to aid in requirement development and ensure conformance. We are an important partner to the project engineers and program managers in the developmental process."
The TMET labs, originally designed to conduct research and development testing, now also do production testing, such as measuring the content of permethrin insect repellent on combat uniforms.
"People have adapted and are flexible enough to change," DeMorais said. "There's a lot that goes on in the lab. We actually develop new methods that are better predictors of actual wear performance."
State-of-the-art equipment used in testing produce useful data, but DeMorais said that what the eye sees can be equally important.
"The data tells you a lot about the performance of a material, but equally important is the observation of the test," DeMorais said. "In some areas, the observation of the testing will assist you in making decisions to properly direct future research and development."
"Comfort can be subjective. Oftentimes -- and the comfort area is a very good example -- you must conduct multiple tests that measure different material attributes and look at them as a whole to make a decision."
TMET tests to see how water repellent and flame retardant materials perform against a number of environmental elements, including water or flame.
"One of the biggest areas in the recent past has been the introduction of textile materials that claim or promise to offer increased comfort through improved moisture-management properties," DeMorais said. "So now we have methods that measure wicking capability and how the water is absorbed and spread through a material."
And what of those 96 loads of laundry in one day? Well, DeMorais and her team wash and dry materials constantly to see how they hold up. Their facility has six home washers and six dryers, as well as an industrial-size washer, all of which get heavy workouts.
"We completed over 4,000 wash and dry loads last year," DeMorais said. "Washing machines have changed quite a bit through the years. A lot of people are going to the front loaders, and the agitation is very different, so you get different results."
TMET uses many methods to test materials before they are fielded.
"Through the years, the testing has definitely changed and been expanded," DeMorais said. "We are always very aware of new technologies for testing. This testing facility has been through continuous evolution.
"We have to complete more testing in less time. We have tight deadlines that can't be missed."