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Sunday, April 15, 2012

U.S. Army Seeking Non-Stick Fabric Technology

Imagine if you simply did not need to launder your clothing or uniform for the sake of the latest solicitation put forth by the US Army. Essentially you would need a fabric where simply nothing adhered creating an everlasting clean garment. The possibilities include longer durability due to lack of agitation from laundering, cost savings, and constantly maintaining cleanliness and appearance standards.

P2i Nano-Technology on UK Disruptive Pattern Material
The Army Contracting Command put forth the sources sought to find an omniphobic coating for textiles. This essentially means it has characteristics of Superhydrophobicity and Superoleopohibicity or in plain English, resistant to water, oils, alcohols (ethanol), and in effect other chemicals with similar surface tension.  Given that the liquids just run right off the material, any dry particles such as dirt would quickly wash away as simple water comes in contact and repels itself from the fabric. 

At the same time, the Army wants fabric treated with the omniphobic coating that will still breathe just as well as the best materials currently being utilized by soldiers, so that they can maintain high performance of the uniform and overall comfort. It is pointless to have a uniform that protects you from the elements if it traps perspiration which can inhibit your body from naturally warming or cooling itself under intense activities. 

The needs for water repellent clothing while maintaining breathability has been discussed ad nauseam and we have presented different technologies including NeverWet and Ion-Mask. These have been gaining momentum in getting the word out on their capabilities and Magnum Boots is already utilizing the latter on some of their Military Boots.

Both P2i and Ross Technologies which created Ion-Mask and NeverWest respectively could have what it takes to meet the needs of this solicitation. and Ross Technologies. The video below shows how their treatment could carry over quite well for fabrics. Both companies have similar proof is in the pudding video demonstrations.



What concerns the Army in their Solicitation is the ability for the product to maintain its durability and consistently perform despite being exposed to rough conditions along with wear and tear susceptible during combat operations. Natick labs will be testing submissions to ensure performance before and after abrasion or laundering when exposed to different liquids. They also want to ensure that it maintains air and moisture permeability, comfort of fabric, colorfastness for foliage green, urban gray, and desert sand palettes, which covers a wide range of environments and potential camouflage options that are currently or could be utilized in the future. 

As with many other factors in designing the uniforms of the future soldier, the US Army proves to cover all the bases in providing the best performing clothing options. Along with camouflage concealment for multiple signatures and terrains, performance in harsh weather conditions, and comfortable designs to meet the needs of both genders are just some of the factors that come to mind. Anecdotal evidence may show they are fighting an uphill battle in meeting the needs of soldiers and their certainly could be some failings in the current results of all the research and design already undertaken. 

Perhaps this is a case of the squeaky wheel making the most noise, but the Army is showing they are willing to give it a big tub of grease and look for other means of continual improvement. Future implications for such technology carrying over to clothing for law enforcement and civilian clothing markets can make this a win-win for everyone. We are all for less laundry and better performing garments no matter what the messy conditions may be. Full details on this solicitation are available at FBO.gov

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