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Swedish steelworkers trial underwear made from fabric used in spacesuits

Named Thunderwear, the new line of protective underwear was launched at a fashion show in Stockholm this summer.

16th October 2014

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Frascati

Protective, Clothing/​Footwear, Industrial, Medical/Hygiene

Swedish steelworkers are to be provided with safer and cooler underwear to work in, designed with a high-tech fabric used in spacesuits, the European Space Agency (ESA) reports.

Using Nomex, a highly resistant fabric used in astronauts’ suits, the Swedish underwear company Björn Borg has come up with prototypes for modern undergarments designed specifically to cope with the extreme conditions of a steel mill.

Protective underwear

Cathrin Persson, working in Sweden’s steel industry since 1998, has encountered a problem of finding the appropriate underwear she could wear to work. The market provides the heat and fire resistant underwear options, but these are not designed for women.

Cathrin Persson with Thunderwear protective clothing based on astronaut suit experience. © Umbilical Design

So, like most steelworkers, she uses regular underwear, which will not protect her skin, as cotton burns easily and retains heat. For women, regular garments fail to provide adequate coverage around the chest.

“When you’re welding, there are sparks flying,” Cathrin explained. “They fall down on you like rain. They make holes in your gear, and eventually, they get on your skin, where they don’t stop until they run into something. This is usually the bra, for females.”

Thermal protection

Named Thunderwear, the new line was launched at a fashion show in Stockholm this summer. As part of the demonstration, it was held over an open fire and showed no marks.

Welder at work. © Wikipedia

The important property of this item is also its ability not to hold heat, which is important for those working where steel is baked at temperatures of up to 1050o C. “I touched the fabric immediately afterward, and it was lukewarm,” said Cathrin.

Technology Transfer Programme

The garments owe their existence to ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme (TTP). Last year, Sweden’s TTP Network broker Cecilia Hertz, of Umbilical Design, came across the problem when talking to representatives of Jernkontoret, Sweden’s Association of Steel Producers.

Next, she contacted the underwear makers Björn Borg, and put out a call to the broker network looking for a suitable material from space. Speaking with TTP's network of European brokers, both UK broker STFC and Italy’s D’Appolonia recommended Nomex.

“We have a background in protective garment materials, and we suggested a couple of options,” said D’Appolonia’s Andrea Maria Ferrari.

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