SSC-Natick Press Release
U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Natick, MA 01760-5012
Contact: Jerry Whitaker -- Chief, Public Affairs Office
Date: December 6, 2004
Plant to spin out new fibers
NATICK, Mass. -- High-performance synthetic fibers for military textiles and other applications are beginning to spin out of the expanded Fiber Plant at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center here.
The Fiber Plant opened here in 1977 to research and develop novel fibers because of the experience, technology, academia and government resources in the region, according to Tom Rohnstock, an equipment specialist on the Fiber Processing and Technology Team.
It started with a monofilament extruder to develop homogeneous fibers. Newer fibers have since been developed, and in 2002 the team took the next step in fiber technology when it acquired a multicomponent extruder.
Instead of producing a single homogeneous fiber, the multicomponent extruder combines a "sheath" material over a "core" material to produce a unique fiber. The resulting fiber may comprise one or more polymers and additives that could be positioned in a specific point of the fiber to provide features including anti-microbial properties, fire retardance, thermal protection, electrical conductivity or radar wave absorption, according to Peter Olejarz, Fiber Processing and Technology team leader.
"It's advantageous in a number of ways," said Louis Dittami, a research physicist. "You can position the additives just under the surface where they can exercise their function while enjoying the protection of the outer layer polymer."
He said materials are normally coated onto a fiber to increase their durability, such as water resistance or flame retardance, but they have a limited life because it's a surface treatment vs. a multicomponent fiber that embeds and protects the material within the fiber itself.
The monofilament extruder remains useful in research and development of nylon, polyester, polyethelene and other synthetic fibers that are woven into items such as outerwear and tents.
Additives are evenly dispersed throughout the fiber in the monofilament extruder, Olejarz said. With the machine, researchers have spun experimental varieties of snow camouflage fibers with ultraviolet properties, experimented on incorporating unique signature-modifying materials or identification capability directly into fibers for camouflage, and supported U.S. Department of Agriculture and Navy-sponsored efforts on biodegradable packaging.
Besides the new multicomponent machine, the facility's staff has grown from two to eight employees in the past 15 years, and in September, the Fiber Plant was accredited by the International Organization for Standardization.
After settling into the expanded plant, the team has re-focused its attention to provide research and development assistance on warfighter needs, Olejarz said, and is accepting experimental ideas from Soldier Systems Center community to take advantage of their expertise.
"This day and age, most textile manufacturers are getting out of research and development because they can't afford it," Olejarz said. "It's mostly done by the government. There are companies who can do it, and it would cost a fortune."
The Fiber Processing and Technology Team is working with other government agencies to develop a new program in 2006 for innovative fiber performance to enhance comfort and survivability for warfighters.
An optical lab is in the process of being created to study additives and polymers, Rohnstock said.
The facility also is involved in a large nanotechnology program to more thoroughly integrate additives and polymers to fibers for lightweight materials. Olejarz said with vast improvements in technology in the last 10 years, there's no telling what discoveries lie ahead.
For more information about the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center, please visit our website at: www.natick.army.mil.