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SSC-Natick Press Release

U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
(508) 233-5340

Date: April 22, 2003
No: 03-12

Tests for textiles

NATICK, Mass. -- Stretching, breaking, tearing, weathering, fading and burning-the Textile Performance Testing Laboratory at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center here does this and more in studying the properties of textiles used in anything from button threads to sprawling tents to see if they stand up to the customer's requirements.

In November, the lab received accreditation for 53 tests for ISO 9001:2000 and ISO 17025:1999 from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), making it the sole lab at the Soldier Systems Center to achieve this distinction.

It's equipped to perform more than 60 tests using standard test methodology from the American Society for Testing Material (ASTM) and American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC). When necessary, it creates unique tests to meet the customer's needs.

Customers from across the military, government and industry take advantage of the expertise of the textile technologists operating an array of equipment in evaluating standard textiles or materials in research and development.

"We're establishing quality standards for end-use, but it doesn't always predict performance in the field," said Vasant Devarakonda, Technical Support Services Team leader.

Typically, project officers prepare a work request detailing the testing to be performed and submit it to technologists to evaluate and characterize the material's performance to assist project officers in down-selecting candidates. On the other hand, knowing desired specifications for a new material, technologists can evaluate a material to see if it meets those standards.

Six machines are available to test tensile strength, pulling materials with force ranging from less than an ounce to more than 100,000 pounds. Similarly, a pendulum-action machine applies up to 56 pounds of force to measure tear strength.

Another set of machines rub samples of fabric using as many as five different mechanical methods to measure abrasion and pilling to compare durability.

Water repellency and resistance tests help find the appropriate materials for outer garments and shelters. A hydrostatic pressure tester measures water penetration while spray testing measures beading and surface wetting.

Air permeability tests measure the airflow through a fabric. "This is critical for testing parachute fabrics and characterizing thermal insulation of clothing," said Nancy Hibbert, a textile technologist.

Colorfastness of dyes is determined by accelerated tests evaluating resistance to fading, weathering, color transfer by rubbing, bleaching, perspiration, washing and dry-cleaning.

Susan Kuriothowski, also a textile technologist, evaluates flammability properties of materials, such as charring, melting, dripping, and degree of burn with the vertical flame test or thermal protection performance test.

"You have to find the appropriate test methodologies to test the material," said Luisa Santos, a textile chemist, who pointed out the new Marine Corps camouflage uniform as one the lab's more prominent projects in recent years.

For military products already in the system at Defense Supply Center-Philadelphia, technologists are called to certify government contract materials, provide technical support and identify alternate materials when needed. Technologists also interpret and analyze data and determine its affect on item serviceability. They support the quality control for Army clothing and accessories and provide textile-testing services for private entities.

Socks, underwear, Battle Dress Uniforms, Class A dress uniforms, rain jackets and fabrics used in footwear are among the standard items tested and evaluated.

"In the rare cases when there is no methodology that can predict performance, we've developed a new methodology," said Devarakonda.

Because of a test developed 22 years ago at the lab, properties of chemical-biological protective clothing can be screened before the garment proceeds with live-agent testing to save time and money, Santos said. The lab also evaluates the shelf-life properties of chemical-biological protective garments.

More recently, the lab was tasked with developing a cleaning procedure to disinfect soldiers' parachutes that might be contaminated with hoof and mouth disease during training in Europe.

"This was particularly critical since most of the recommended procedures tend to adversely affect the tensile properties of the textile material," Devarakonda said.

The "bean bag" test created at the lab six years ago checks the durability of black color used in the woodland print pattern of all nylon-based materials. Before the test, he said the technologists found the black color in the Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System was being completely removed, but there was no way to predict it.

Beyond physical and chemical properties of materials, the lab studies the qualities that affect appearance, such as shrinkage and elongation, and smoothness and crease retention.

"We look at the seams and overall appearance of uniforms after multiple washings," said Judy Sewell, a textile technologist. "General officers want crisp-looking uniforms."

An upgraded shade room with improved lighting detects visual differences in fabrics to ensure uniformity in color between different manufacturers. The room's new spectrophotometer has more than double the range of the old model for measuring near-infrared properties of camouflage clothing.

"We're using the equipment to develop new specifications to make uniforms undetectable while wearing night vision goggles," said Melanie King, a textile technologist.

The technologists participate in committees of AATCC and ASTM to ensure that the textile facility stays updated on the latest developments in test methodology. "Their commitment and dedication to provide its customers with professional service, accurate quality testing/data and to meet target schedules is clearly delineated in the laboratory's quality policy and most important practiced in their day-to-day activities," Devarakonda said.

For more information about the Soldier Systems Center, please visit our website at

This page last updated on 28 February 2003.