Tested in fire: W.L. Gore pushes manufacturing forward

By Christine Collins

(ELKTON, Md. – Oct. 23, 2017) — Fires like the ones that raged through the Napa Valley and Portland in the last few weeks are astounding reminders of the destructive forces in nature. Firefighters show us the indomitable spirit to battle it. But the unseen factors are often some of the strongest elements at work.

For 60 years, the material scientists at W.L. Gore have created components that protect people from the iciest cold and the most searing heat humans could expect to encounter. For the last year, that manufacturing has come from discoveries in key, cutting-edge labs.

“By creating real-world conditions in a lab environment, we can scientifically measure and analyze the impact of a product on human perception and performance in a controlled environment and then quickly apply that data to our product research and development efforts,” said Paul Canatella, a technical leader for Gore Fabrics Division.

In the Gore’s Heat and Flame Protection lab, scientists measure how Gore’s products protect against flames and two types of thermal protection: insulation and stability. Insulation protects firefighters from external heat. Stability keeps their body temperatures under control in heavy gear and scorching conditions.

“The advanced capabilities of the Heat and Flame Protection lab allow us to very quickly assess the performance of materials and rapidly generate and develop understanding and new technologies that enable us to better protect those that protect and serve all of us,” said Kip Sturgill, global technical leader for Gore’s protective fabrics business unit.

A second relatively new lab, the Environmental Chamber, recreates up to 95 percent of the environments possible on Earth. That means temperatures from 58 degrees below zero to 122 above. The lab can simulate Category 3 hurricane-force winds, and can replicate a complete solar cycle’s radiation levels.

There’s even a rain tower that shows Gore scientists how their products work in a torrential downpour.

The multi-million dollar investment in these labs shores up more than one critical element of Gore’s work. Product testing can be done before a product hits the market, allowing the creators of GORE-TEX to develop clothing and footwear consumers can trust. Plus, it’s the force that keeps the company moving forward.

“Innovation is the key to our continued growth,” said Gore Associate Michael Ratchford. “Our commitment to innovation has allowed us to grow into a global enterprise with products that range from high-performance fabrics such as GORE-TEX garments and footwear to implantable medical devices,  industrial manufacturing components, and aerospace electronics.”

For firefighters, that kind of innovation provides a critical barrier. For you, it might mean dry feet on a wet golf course.

In manufacturing, it’s insulation. The National Association of Manufacturers says that every dollar spent in the industry adds almost twice as much to the economy, and every manufacturing worker hired means four more people hired elsewhere.

That’s a condition worth replicating.

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