In my last blog post I showed perhaps one of the most obvious ways to test Gore-Tex® to observe if the design or product actually works to keep water away from the body—by checking out the Gore® Rain Room. Today, I’m going to show a few of the many other ways Gore-Tex® is tested to ensure the consumer is getting the best possible product for those demanding outdoors situations.
Just a bit of a warning, this blog post will be quite picture intensive. I apologize for that fact up-front. The point is I think it’s important for consumers to visually see the many ways the Gore-Tex® membrane is tested because I truly believe the typical outdoor product consumer has no idea just how extensive and comprehensive the process is.
At this particular Gore® location in Elkton, MD, you will see large rolls of the Gore-Tex® membrane, in several different patterns and colors, being quality tested before being shipped out to the manufacturing licensee. I should point out that from what I understand W.L. Gore & Associates doesn’t finish most of the products—rather, it sells the material components to other licensee companies who then complete the product manufacture.
The Gore® warehouse is filled with racks storing membrane product for just about any manufacturing need.
As a consumer, it should be heartening to know that each of those rolls has been thoroughly tested in the lab before it is released to the manufacturer.
Take, for instance, glove testing. Gore® has special machines to test the membrane inside a glove to verify the liner is intact and functioning correctly. In this case the glove is inserted into a tube and the device seals off the glove and subsequently pressurizes it with air to check for leaks.
When a glove company decides to purchase Gore-Tex® membranes they also get this testing equipment at their factory. They also get Gore employees on-site to randomly check for any problems during a product’s manufacture. By this process, Gore® maintains high quality standards associated with the Gore® name from the time the membrane is produced all the way until the product eventually ships to the retailer.
In the case of gloves, several things can go wrong during the manufacture and are tested to ensure proper function. Here, Lynn Owens from the Gore® Lab takes a hemostat forceps and attaches it deep inside the glove directly to the liner. Next, she pulls on a scale that verifies the liner won’t pull out of this glove with acceptable pressure. Now, how many times have you dealt with purchasing cheap gloves and the liner pulls out when the fingers are removed? Well, the chances of this happening with a Gore-Tex® made glove is very unlikely.
Throughout the Gore® Labs there are many different quality assurance tests conducted in a variety of ways. Yet, even at the point of manufacture, Gore® maintains control over how their product is used. If a manufacturer does not maintain quality levels at or above certain standards…well, they simply lose their product licensing privileges and Gore-Tex® is removed as a component from their product line.
Back at the Gore® Labs, membrane swatches are collected from the rolls of Gore-Tex® product to undergo a series of tests.
One of the more interesting tests was the washing durability procedure conducted in Gore’s® wash room. Here there was literally about 100 washing machines in this room working continuously around the clock testing how the membrane from a particular sample lot would hold up to the rigors of continued washing.
Indeed, this place was the Maytag Repairman’s worst nightmare (actually, I think they were mostly Sears Kenmore machines) as the membrane went through repeated washing cycles. All of these machines were modified so the agitator cycle ran non-stop to provide what would likely be considered more than the normal abuse from a lifetime of average washings by a consumer.
Prior to visiting the Gore® Lab I was always reluctant to wash my expensive Gore-Tex® garments. No more. In fact, as you will learn in an upcoming blog post, washing your Gore® garment is what they recommend you do to it as soon as you bring it home from the store.
Moving on to some other forms of testing…in this particular lab, tests are conducted to determine abrasion durability.
These machines take a sample of the Gore® membrane and rub continuously back and forth using a machine that oscillates as it rubs on the product.
Again, Gore has established certain minimum standards so that this rubbing device, providing wear and tear to the membrane, does not ultimately interfere with the integrity of how the product is intended to be used as a waterproof, breathable liner.
In this testing the membrane shows how water vapor is released through the Gore-Tex® product, but that it does not leak. Note how Tom Casti, Gore’s® footwear Research and Development Associate, waves a piece of glass in front of the membrane to pick up the steam vapor showing the membrane is permeable to water vapor.
Inside the tube is boiling water creating a vapor moving through the membrane much like heat vapor would escape from the warmth of a human body.
Next, we can look at some cold testing to see how ice (shown in the container below the membrane) affects the temperature probe found in the container above the membrane.
Notice how with all things being equal, certain membranes will act differently to deal more favorably with the cold ice on the opposite side of the membrane.
Tom shows how the testing continues on these boot liners. In fact, of all the Gore® products, the boot liner likely takes more demanding abuse than waterproof, breathable liners used in other ways.
In this test sample liners are immersed into water and pressurized to check for leaks. Here, Tom, points to some small bubble action indicating failure in this test sample.
Even though the leak is circled now in the picture, to the naked eye observing for a hole or puncture is nearly impossible. Yet, a small hole such as this would be enough to ruin the day for a hunter walking in the woods crossing a small stream.
This picture shows a bunch of boot liners from various production lots awaiting testing in Gore’s® motion simulator.
Tom explains how the machine works to simulate walking subsequently creating stress points in the footwear’s Gore-Tex® liner. Note the computer at the top which monitors for liner failure.
The boots simulate walking…flexing as the human foot would flex all done while the boot is under water in the tub. Sensors within the boot observe for leakage and monitor how long it takes to observe for liner failure.
The computer shows failure points (indicated by the red dots) so the operator can determine if the problem occurred because of some manufacturing error, membrane deficiency or if the boot finally failed at some acceptable point in time given normal wear and tear for the given product.
Boots are really a special product for Gore-Tex® because keeping water out, yet allowing the foot to release perspiration is so important to keeping dry feet. In my estimation, of all the products where you find Gore-Tex® I personally think footwear is the most important as it relates to comfort and function.
One area in the Gore® Lab I would be remiss if I didn’t mention was the Gore® Comfort Chamber.
Inside this special room is Gore’s® ability to create almost any type of climate imaginable. Extreme heat, cold, wind…the sort of conditions most of us would feel when recreating in the outdoors.
Inside this comfort chamber they have the ability to use special mannequins equipped with sensors, or they have the option to even use human subjects for testing. Believe me, the sort of testing that goes into developing new Gore® products is nothing short of remarkable. Unfortunately, in a blog post, I could only give you a small sampling of what is involved in the entire process.
As this series begins to wind down with the next couple blog posts…if I’ve accomplished nothing else I hope you have a new respect for what goes into the manufacture of a Gore-lined outdoors product. From developing the membrane, testing it, carefully monitoring the manufacturing process…and as you will learn in the next post, customer service after the sale…it is a very comprehensive process to keep the customer happy.
In the next post I’ll talk about what to do as a new owner of some Gore-Tex® garment, including what you can do to reach customer service if you feel you have a Gore® product that has failed to perform. Stay tuned…
©2011 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.