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Quality Fabric Of The Month

Protection On Demand

The Dow Corning® Active Protection System transforms fabrics from flexible, comfortable and soft to rigid and protective when subjected to impact as in a collision.

Janet Bealer Rodie, Associate Editor

W hen it comes to collisions, the words “soft” and “ protective” used together would seem to present an oxymoron. Traditional motorcycle apparel, for example, contains impact-resistant hard-shell or semi-flexible components to protect such sensitive body parts as the back, knees, elbows and shoulders. However, new technology developed by Dow Corning Corp. overturns conventional perceptions about such protective gear. The Midland, Mich.-based silicone product developer’s Active Protection System (APS) offers several advantages with regard to comfort, stability and garment design over traditional hard-armor systems designed for blunt high-impact situations.

A typical APS fabric comprises a breathable polyester, 4.8-millimeter-thick 3-D spacer textile impregnated with a soft, flexible and moldable dilatant silicone. Normally, the silicone polymers are lightly crosslinked in a soft, flexible solid state. When a sudden force is applied, the material instantly becomes rigid as the energy absorbed spreads from the point of impact to adjacent spacer yarns. The fabric returns to its original state when the force dissipates. Graham Budden, a senior technical service chemist at Dow Corning Ltd., Wales, said the impact force thus is reduced substantially, and the protection provided is more immediate and longer-lasting than that afforded by rigid systems. According to Dow Corning, APS used in two or three layers exceeds European impact protection standards for motorcycle apparel by approximately 40 percent.
The APS 3-D spacer fabric hardens upon impact, distributing  the energy absorbed at the point of impact to adjacent spacer yarns, and returns to its flexible state upon dissipation of the impact.

The company notes that APS, which is available on rolls with a release liner, can be sewn directly into a garment, whereas rigid systems often include removable components and therefore may be less stable. The system can be layered to provide different protection levels as needed and offers many garment design possibilities. Its breathability, flexibility and light weight make it more comfortable to wear than rigid systems. It also has been shown to be more breathable and washable than most foam- or gel-based soft-armor systems.

Hannu Malinen, brand manager of Rukka, a Finland-based manufacturer of motorcycle, snowmobile and active sports apparel, said APS embodies a vision the company has long held for a motorcycle suit protective system that also offers maximum comfort and washability. Rukka’s SRO (Smart Rider’s Outfit) Anatomic suit, which will appear in stores early next year, is the first commercial end-product to incorporate APS. The suit will include Rukka APS Air protection for all sensitive body parts. A separate APS Air back protector also will be available.

Other potential applications include protective apparel and gear for contact sports, construction, and civil and military defense; as well as industrial and geo fabrics. Budden said the system also might be combined with others to provide further protection where needed.

“In very specialized areas, there is potential for a combined approach,” he said. “Our technology would be useful as part of a whole package of protection techniques.”

For more information about Dow Corning® Active Protection System, contact Joy Schriber (989) 496-4519.

July/August 2006