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The Importance of Insulation to Large Corporations and The U.S. Military

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“TEMPERATURE ADAPTIVE INSULATION” is the title of a sources sought notice put out by Department of the Army; Natick Laboratories, Natick, MA. The purpose is to see if industry is working on the making of an insulation that could be used in a single garment that will replace the multiple layers of garments currently utilized.

Think about what they want; a system in a garment that will work as the thermostat does in your house. If you have the thermostat set for 70 degrees and the air temperature drops about 4 or 5 degrees the heat source; furnace turns on because the thermostat sensor directs it electronically to increase the temperature back to 70 degrees. Conversely if your air conditioner is operating and it is set at 70 degrees and the temperature in the house raises 4 or 5 degrees the sensor directs the cooling system to turn on to cool the room and decrease the temperature back to 70 degrees. In either case you do not add or subtract a layer of clothing. This is precisely what is being asked for from industry.

The information that they want any interested party’s to address is as follows: 1- Maturity level of the technology as well as an estimate of the time and funding that is required to get the technology to an end state. I asked if any person, company or Natick employee had stated or suggested that a single insulating medium technology already existed at some level. The response was that they could not give any information of that nature. 2-Temperature range that the insulation is being designed to provide protection in. That suggests to me that it has been discussed, was it amongst themselves or did someone in industry tell them they are working on something? 3- Environmental conditions that the insulation is being designed to perform in, i.e. cold, cold/wet, ice, etc. Having read these criteria, I thought they should get a space suit.

What I also find of interest is they are prepared to fund the development of this technology. It is because they are interested in funding this activity suggests to me that someone has put a bug in their ear that it is potentially possible, and pigs can fly.

I believe the reason for this exercise is based upon the fact that all of the insulations they have approved are not performing in the field as expected. You must know that all of the testing they do is on copper manikins and not in the field. As the major supplier of sleeping bags to the military I get calls, e mails, etc from military personnel purchasing many of the jackets I make that are worn with what they are issued since the issue garments do not perform for them. They also must find avenues to develop something in order to continue to get funding. Just another example of government waste.

I saw the following headlines in an advertisement for the Outlast Company; “Experience Award Winning Technology” at the top of the ad and “Our technology has protected astronauts in space and won awards on earth” at the bottom of the ad. The award came from Techtextil for the world’s first heat-managing polyester fiber. Techtextil as far as I could find out via research on the internet runs trade shows for the textile industry and is based in Frankfurt Germany. What I did not see on their web site is any information giving background in insulations. As for the Outlast product protecting astronauts in space the statement is simply not true.

I will have worked with polyester fiber for what will be 50 years come May 2012. Polyester fiber is an inanimate material, if exposed to heat it will get warm and if exposed to cold it will get cold. Polyester is a plastic and all plastics respond quickly to temperature change but it can not manage heat any more than it can manage anything else.

I went into the Outlast web site as they suggest in the ad to learn more about their product. I noted a picture of a fellow next to someone dressed in a space suit. I then called the Outlast Company and was connected to a fellow who had substantial knowledge of their product. I asked if any of the material used in the manufacture of the space suit was treated with the Outlast Company’s paraffin encapsulated beads. He told me no, so I asked why they make the statement in the ad that their technology has protected astronauts. His response was that the technology was originally developed by NASA. I already knew that NASA was the creator of the paraffin encapsulated beads, and if I remember correctly it had something to do with being added to paint. At this time I do not believe it was incorporated into any area of use by NASA. I do know that Outlast Company came into existence specifically to use this technology and a second company adopted the paraffin bead technology by the name of Frisby Company. These two companies competed for a while and finally Outlast I think bought out Frisby. See the January 1997 newsletter in the archives for a more comprehensive review of the paraffin bead technology.

I also read an article about a new construction technique used to make sleeping bags that I had never heard of. The company that promotes this technique is of the same name as the technique; Insotect Ltd. The company is located in Canada. However, the work they do is done in Asia as I found out when I spoke with their representative. The article speaks of Sierra Designs marketing one of their down bags that are now utilizing their construction technique. The technique is called “Insotect Flow”. When I spoke with the representative I was told they couldn’t sell me any thing that I could incorporate into my bags, they had to actually make the bags at their factory in Asia.

With respect to down bags all they are doing is placing the baffles length wise in the bag versus across the bag as has been done as long as I have known of down bag construction. They also sew in tubes from what I can see on their website that also are positioned length wise inside the bag. These tubes according to their published information are termed VTC’s or vertical thermal channels with “Flow-Gates” that “help to facilitate heat distribution more readily from head to toe”. The Flow-Gates hold the down in place in some manner to minimize down-shifting.

Essentially they are stating that the air that is heated with in the bag is not rising but is moving laterally. Like the paraffin beads heating and then send the heat in the direction from which it came these people are saying that the warm air is moving laterally so in both instances they are defying the laws of physics. Heat rises and moves to cold, it does not ever voluntarily reverse direction and go in the direction from whence it came.

3-M is seriously promoting the Thinsulate brand of insulation again more actively than I have seen in recent times. The latest and greatest is Thinsulate Platinum Insulation. I went into their web site but could not find anything that actually describes this product. The advertisement states it is “technically advanced” but how or why it is better than to older versions of Thinsulate is not to the best of my knowledge researching it is ever explained.

The reality of all of this tells me that there must be money to be made selling insulating mediums. What I find bothersome is what major companies are willing to say in order to get the attention of the consumer; potential customer who in turn may very well ask the retailer about this or that product who will then go to the manufacturer because the retailer is being asked about it by the consumer.

Maybe one day the government employees charged with developing insulated products; outerwear and sleeping bags as well as the companies offering insulated products will take the time to learn about insulation.

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