The Top Ten Winning Innovations

Specialty Fabrics Review, February 2014


The IFF Innovation Award seeks to honor companies that are developing groundbreaking ideas with the potential to transform markets in the industrial fabric industry. The award encompasses innovative projects and processes that have, or will have, a significant impact on the industry or consumers, and are available in the market. Polartec® was awarded first place for its Alpha® insulation because of the impact of this fabric on both the professional and consumer markets.


1st Polartec Alpha® by Polartec®

Polartec®, a developer, manufacturer and marketer of performance fabrics, worked together with the United States Special Operations Forces (SOF) to develop Polartec Alpha®, a new breed of puffy outerwear insulation. Alpha, a breathable insulation with durable weather protection, received the highest field testing results of any product tested by the SOF evaluation team. Developed in 2011, it has become a standard issue for all Special Forces operators, and was launched into the consumer market this fall.

The SOF required a shell that would offer high levels of warmth to protect from cold conditions while providing breathability to eliminate the need to shed layers when conditions change. There was also a need for an insulation that was durable enough to handle the rigors of a combat environment, with wind protection and water repellency built in. Polartec saw a gap in the market when it came to puffy outerwear garments. While traditional down and existing synthetic fillers trap moisture during strenuous activity, Polartec sought to create a highly breathable fabric to provide active warmth for those unwilling to compromise activity because of weather.

“Polartec Alpha is one of the more versatile pieces of clothing for combat operations we have worn, which is a critical component in this type of layer,” says a U.S. Special Forces Operator in Kodiak, Alaska. “When an operator puts a layer on under a load carriage, he doesn’t have the option of stopping to take it off. Alpha provides protection from the elements and breathes exceptionally well.”

Different from down

“Static warmth” is a key feature of traditional down and synthetic insulators. Though they offer significant warmth when the wearer is stationary, overheating occurs when the wearer becomes active because of the insulation’s moisture-trapping vapor barrier. In addition, when down products get wet they trap cold air and cause rapid cooling, taking quite a while to dry. Though traditional synthetic insulation maintains warmth when wet and is more water resistant than its down counterpart, it still has a long dry time due to the inherent vapor barrier.

Alpha gives the warmth of down without the bulk and is highly breathable so wearers maintain a comfortable body temperature in any activity. It is two times more air permeable than other synthetic insulation. This allows moisture to move quickly through the fabric and away from the body, keeping the wearer dry. Unlike down, Alpha still insulates when wet and dries 60 percent faster than the competition, reducing heat loss.

Its knit construction—vertical rather than horizontal, and with high-loft fibers in a low-density knit—eliminates fiber migration, which allows for more versatility in the backing fabrics. As a result, the traditional vapor barrier can be done away with. This opens up the transport of moisture away from the body or base layer to the outer layer.

“What’s most impressive about Polartec Alpha is that it is so versatile over a wide range of conditions and uses,” says Gord Betenia, mountaineer, skier, climber, field-tester, and Polartec Athlete Advisory Board member. “It is incredibly compact, wind resistant, dries quickly and can be counted on to continue to perform even when conditions go completely sideways.”

Polartec developed a high-loft knit for the insulation, covered with face and back fabrics, with optional stretch. It has a protective woven outer layer and a durable knitted insulation layer, with smooth inner lining. The whole package is machine washable. Alpha also offers versatility in garment construction, allowing designers to fashion their own insulation packages for visually innovative garments.

Test results

During development, Alpha underwent Dynamic Moisture Permeation Cell testing, which simulates real-world conditions to test for breathability and warmth. This testing system was developed by the U.S. Military’s Natick Labs, controlling the humidity and air pressure on both sides of a fabric to measure how well it allows moisture vapor to pass through under varying conditions. Alpha is 50 percent more breathable than other synthetic insulation from the start, and only increases from there.

Future growth

Over time, Polartec believes that Alpha will result in more cost-effective outerwear because the warmth without weight eliminates the need for multiple layers. And, though effective for warmth on its own, breathability is not altered when adding extra layers, and it can serve as a midlayer for more extreme climates.

“In three to five years, we anticipate additional adoptions by other military services worldwide,” said Lindsey Thompson, marketing communications manager at Polartec. “In the consumer market, we also anticipate additional apparel adoptions worldwide and growth into other areas like accessories, sleeping bags and other insulation products for active warmth.”

Polartec would also like to develop responsive textiles using Alpha to create flame-resistant versions for expanded military use and transfer this technology to the consumer workwear market.

Launch partners

Alpha products launched with 15 partner brands in fall of 2013, and an additional 10 adoptions are planned over the next several months. Brands Polartec partnered with for the initial consumer launch include: Eddie Bauer, Eider, Mammut, Marmot, Montane, Mountain Equipment, Rab, 66º North, Stoic, Ternua, Terry Cycle, The North Face, Trangoworld, Vaude and Westcomb. Several other brands are confirmed for spring 2014 releases.


2nd Coverflex Wall Seal by Coverflex Mfg. Inc.

Developed to help prevent the loss of heat in turbines by sealing and insulating the inside and outside of the hot turbine wall, the Wall Seal by Coverflex creates a seal to prevent gases from escaping and air from entering. The wall seal is a custom, accordion-style insulation blanket created to move with the turbine’s movement. These features result in more efficient turbine performance in a safe operating environment. Traditionally, turbines have used silicone rubber seals, but they burn up in 700+ degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, causing heat loss and requiring replacement several times a year. The Coverflex Wall Seal has a high-heat capability that resists degradation. Although it costs more upfront, it will not require replacement and is removable and reusable for maintenance needs.

3rd ExactFlat Design Studio by ExactFlat and Tri-D Technologies Inc.

This software system, seven years in the making, cuts the “screen-to-machine” CAD printing process in half and doubles productivity. It fully integrates 3-D design, 3-D to 2-D flattening, nesting and costing into one CAD platform. This offers speed and flexibility to product design, prototyping and production because data isn’t lost by switching between programs. Defined attributes and simulations, such as seam allowances, notches and grain lines can be specified in-program as well. The system replaces the manual part of the traditional process using ExactFlat’s proprietary algorithms and fabric simulation. This system was specifically developed with the industrial fabric industry in mind for increased precision and integration in automotive, marine, aerospace, furniture, apparel and architecture fabrication.

4th PBI Max™ by Safety Components

An outer shell designed for increased protection for firefighters, PBI Max offers improved thermal protection, increased resistance against tears, increased fabric strength, improved fabric and garment flexibility, improved comfort and lighter weight. The new twill weave reduces fabric weight by 10 grams and lowers the level of stress in the firefighter’s working environment. The orientation of the filament Kevlar® yarns and the spun PBI-Kevlar yarns are arranged so the fabric can be cut to face either side, reducing fabric waste and manufacturing time.

5th PRS engineered by PRS-Neoweb™

An optimized, stiff geocell technology, PRS-Neoweb can match geocell performance to specific project requirements. Using Neoloy®, a novel polymer alloy, PRS-Neoweb was fabricated in increasing geocell strengths, matching the required performance of various project types for slopes, channels, walls and load support. This makes competitive pricing possible for geocell solutions in soil confinement, stabilization and reinforcement. PRS-Neoweb is manufactured in multilayer strips with a high durability outer layer around a stiff core, combining strength, flexibility, chemical stability and high resistance to permanent plastic deformation and long-term stresses.

6th WASP™ Shirt by Globe Manufacturing Co.

The Wearable Advanced Sensor Platform (WASP) Shirt is a body-worn system that integrates physiological and location monitoring for real-time data collection. It is specifically intended to measure the stress placed on firefighters during the course of their duties, with an aim to reduce deaths and disability due to physical stress. Cardiac stress is the primary cause of firefighter fatalities in the field. This product tracks heart and respiration rates, activity levels and posture, among other physiological factors. The sensors are mounted on an adjustable BioHarness™ 3 strap inside the flame-resistant, moisture-wicking shirt. The four-way stretch knit fabric is made from a blend of modacrylic, viscose, para-aramid and spandex.

7th SunMaster App by Light Weight Structures

SunMaster is a mobile app for shade structure designers to help them determine where a shade should be placed and positioned for optimal protection. The app has an augmented reality function that allows instantaneous visualization of the sun’s position. It also has a shadow length calculator and geographical location tool for increased accuracy. The combination of these functions is available exclusively through this app. In the past, this kind of calculation has been determined through sun position charts, and more recently through software on desktop computers, but the app allows on-site calculations of sun positioning indoors, outdoors and on cloudy days.

8th Loop to Loop by Designtex

This is the first product in a closed-loop recycling program for capturing and recycling textile waste and turning it back into high quality goods. It was developed in collaboration with three other companies—woven by Victor from Unifi yarn for Steelcase furniture. Fabric waste is created on the cutting floor during furniture production as pieces are fabricated and edges are trimmed. Traditionally, this waste is sold to recyclers to be made into carpet underlays and backing material. Designtex and its partners sought to instead use this waste to make a product just as high quality as the original textile. The recycled yarns used to make Loop to Loop are made with 87 percent postconsumer recycled polyester, 12 percent preconsumer recycled polyester and one percent polyester. On top of being made from recycled content within the industry, it is also manufactured for future recycling. The whole process reuses textiles within the same supply chain, saving on the monetary and environmental costs of shipping waste to a landfill.

9th Seamvision by Miller Weldmaster Corp.

This precision seam welder and remote monitoring system was created to ensure the highest seam integrity. Seamvision uses high-speed infrared thermal imaging technology to provide continual analysis of the integrity of each welded seam. It offers 95 individual measurement positions to measure any seam size and can capture monitored seams 20 times per second for highly consistent measurements. A notification alarm is built into the system for error alerts, immediately identifying thermal problems. Seamvision is intended to provide clients with a high-quality end product, as well as data reports to ensure that products were monitored under strict system controls. First created for aerospace and military industries, Miller Weldmaster has adapted the technology for commercial use in the production of tarps, inflatables and other welded-seam products.

10th The Liberator by Jackson Canvas Co.

A fully automated pontoon boat cover and cruising top, this unique cover system combines the top and cover units into one piece and has four positions: mooring top, cruising top, double bimini top and low overpass bridge. With the automation feature, operated with a remote control key fob, a boat can be uncovered or recovered in less than 40 seconds. The cover is made from WeatherMax® 80 supplied by Safety Components and the aluminum is supplied by Max Manufacturing.

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