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Not an oxymoron

My Take | July 8, 2016 | By:

Here’s a conversation about protective textiles with someone not in the business. I say, “I’m writing a short piece that has to do with protective textiles.”

“Protective textiles. Sounds like an oxymoron.” He smiles.

“You’ve heard of raincoats, perhaps? Awnings? Insect netting?” I ask. I’m being a little catty, but I know this guy, so it’s ok.

“Well, ok.” He’s laughing.

“How about bullet-proof vests?” I suggest.

“The actual protection isn’t fabric, though … is it?”

I realize he’s starting to wonder. “What do you think the space shuttle is made out of?” I’m pushing it, but I’m not completely out of line. (I know this, but he doesn’t.)

“The space shuttle …” He heads for the cooler for a beer—and a conversation about putting a bimini top on his boat. I resist the temptation …

You can guess where my imaginary conversation would go, I’m sure; fabrics protect us in many ways – even when we’re out having fun in a boat.

Protective apparel and gear used by firefighters and other emergency responders are obvious additional applications to note. But many other environments require protective materials, from hospitals to oil drilling platforms. Protective curtains in industrial settings protect from sparks heat, paint spraying, chemicals, and even explosions. That’s all fairly easy to take in, but some new technologies for engineering protective textiles are a little harder to grasp.

Like auxetics. Do you understand this? If I had to explain why this technology works as it does, I would have to quote an expert, such as one of those used in our feature, “A new kind of protective textile,” but I still can’t quite wrap my head around it. This is an amazing technology that offers improved functionality in everything from athletic shoes to wound care. Crazy? Crazy impressive!

Later this month we’ll run another feature on protective textiles that discusses how the recent boom in oil and gas production is driving “cross-fertilization of technologies from various industries.” Workers in many industries need protection from cuts, falls, chemical contamination and explosions. Textiles figure prominently in protective products for all of these hazards.

And that’s the beauty of textiles—as I’ve said in many ways, so many times on this site. Textiles can be engineered to do just about anything. I’m convinced. Not that I completely understand all of it, but I’m still convinced.

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