THE Wool ComfortMeter, cutting edge technology which can accurately predict the comfort levels of garments, is on the cusp of becoming a commercial reality and revolutionising the way garments are sold.
The machine has been developed by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) in conjunction with the CSIRO, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), the Australian Wool Testing Authority (AWTA), Deakin University and the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA).
Under the guidance of David Tester, Leader of Sheep CRC Program 2 (next generation wool quality), the world’s biggest knitwear company, the Crystal Group, is this week testing the ComfortMeter at its Chinese mills. This demonstration trial follows on from successful trials at the world’s second largest textile firm, Ceil Textiles in Mauritius earlier this year.
“The results of these major trials have seriously impressed the industry’s leading players,” Sheep CRC chief executive James Rowe said.
“The Wool ComfortMeter has the potential to improve the marketability of their woollen garments by providing retailers with the ability to guarantee comfort levels.
“The Sheep CRC is now in negotiations with AWI to commercialise this technology for use around the world.”
The Wool ComfortMeter has been developed by the Sheep CRC to provide cost-effective ways to measure and guarantee next-to-skin comfort for the consumer.
“The new system offers the first simple, objective measurement of garment comfort levels for lightweight knitted fabric – traditional indirect measurements, such as fibre diameter only accounts for part of the picture and is not easily verified in a finished garment,” Prof. Rowe said.
“It has been shown that other wool characteristics, such as spinning and yarn characteristics, knitting specifications as well as dying and finishing all have a significant influence on next-to-skin comfort and fabric handle.
“Thanks to the ComfortMeter, the process of quality control is now significantly faster, cheaper and more accurate than other comfort measures.”
Operating as part of the Federal Department of Innovation Industry Science and Research’s CRC program, the Sheep CRC is a collaboration of industry, government and the commercial sector. It is working to increase productivity and profitability of the industry through new technologies for adoption by both the meat and wool supply chains.
The accuracy of the Wool ComfortMeter in predicting the feel of garments has been validated through a series of comprehensive wearer trials with at least 25 young women testing each fabric. Long-sleeved T-shirts are worn by each assessor during a two-hour trial period that includes and air-conditioned ‘office’ environment as well as exercising on a treadmill under warm humid conditions.
The wearer trials, conducted by DAFWA, provide a very accurate measure of consumer comfort but are very expensive and time consuming. They have however provided a set of fabrics of defined comfort for calibration of simpler testing systems.
An intermediate step between the comprehensive wearer trial and the ComfortMeter machine measurement is a ‘sleeve trial’ system developed by the CRC’s Wool Program. This uses the fact that the forearm is the most sensitive part of the body to wool comfort. Two fabrics can be compared in a single test – with the left and right arm.
The sleeve trials conducted with volunteers at the Curves Armidale gymnasium is proving to be valuable method of testing a broad range of fabrics and results appear to compare well with the full wearer trial protocol.
Objective measurements delivered by the ComfortMeter and validated through wearer and sleeve trials are providing very accurate predictions of wearer comfort.
The ComfortMeter opens the way for industry to deliver objective garment ratings to consumers as a means of over-coming perceptions about the comfort and “prickle factor” of woollen products.
“By identifying levels of next-to-skin comfort for garments that meet consumer expectations, industry has the opportunity to adopt quality control and quality assurance levels, and link these to price points at retail,” Prof Rowe said.