Polymer research pays off for safety

Tom Shelley investigates the advantages brought by advanced polymer technologies to personal protective equipment

New coatings, the combination of biological and synthetic materials, as well as shape memory polymers are just some of the innovations coming out of laboratory research and into a range of safety products to deliver valuable improvements.

The combined materials are being used in gloves and protective shoes, to give them a combination of sweat handling and protection. The coatings and memory materials are also being used in safety glasses to make them exceptionally lightweight to wear yet robust.

All the products are being offered by German based, Uvex. And while the company declines to say exactly which innovation came out of which laboratory, we recognise the lines of research to be among those pursued by some of the great German research institutes. These continue to provide a foundation for industrial development that is hard to match in the UK.

The material in the gloves known as Helix C5, is called Bamboo Twinflex. It consists of strands of bamboo wound round DSM Dyneema high strength polyethylene fibres. Dyneema is about 15 times as strong as steel and 40% stronger than aramid fibre.

The concept of using such materials to improve comfort and wick away moisture has been given the name, Climatec. James Finlayson a product manager at Uvex says: "The bamboo fibres provide heat and moisture transport that is vastly better than that provided by synthetic materials. It is even 50% better than cotton."

The same material has been incorporated in the company's Xenova footwear. Most are for foot protection for use in industrial applications, but a sizeable proportion is made for athletes. Development within the company has been extensive, involving the use of temperature and moisture sensors on worn shoes during the refinement of designs.

The new safety glasses are designated Super G and weigh only 18g. This is mainly because the lenses are made exceptionally thin from polycarbonate. They nonetheless have a scratch resistant coating on the outside and an anti mist coating on the inside. While the company declined to give details, we are aware that such coatings have been under development for some years by the Leibniz Institute of New Materials in Saarbrucken in Germany, and involve nanotechnology and the combination of organic and silicon based structures within the molecules.

They are also unusual in that they have no hinges. Instead they incorporate a residual stress in the side members, which the company calls its X-stream or XST technology, so that when they are pulled off the side pieces fold round behind the lenses. Yet when worn, they exert barely perceivable pressure to keep them in place on the head.

If this were not enough, the company has also applied advanced science to new, disposable plastic coveralls, to protect against chemical and biological hazards, and even humble earplugs.

The coveralls include a layer containing sufficient colloidal silver called, by the company, AgPure to reduce the growth of existing microorganisms by nearly 100%. They include strong seams that are ultrasonically sealed, two layer zipper flaps with Velcro and adhesive tapes, and a system for attaching a facemask for optimum protection. They are much lighter and more comfortable to wear than the rubber biohazard suits that seem to be the norm in the UK.

Last but not least, the earplugs are shaped and made hollow so that they actually fit comfortably in the ear, rather than tending to force themselves out.


* New safety gloves and shoes use a combination of bamboo fibres to wick away perspiration with highest strength synthetic polymers to provide protection

* New safety glasses make use of advanced coatings to allow the lenses to be made very thin and light, plus side pieces that incorporate sufficient residual strain to fold them when taken off, without the need for hinges

Tom Shelley

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