Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility (NCTRF) announced the commencement of a study and evaluation of 3D knitted face coverings. NCTRF is a business line of the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM), whose parent command is Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP). As such, in March 2020, NAVSUP directed NCTRF to pivot their 3D knitting research from flight deck jerseys to personal protective face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“At the onset of COVID-19, when the Honorable James Geurts asked to pull together ideas to respond to COVID-19 and support the defense industrial base, the Navy’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) team rose to the challenge,” said Brian Shipley, commercialization program manager, Department of the Navy’s SBIR/STTR Program Office. “This effort was quickly determined to be a way to pivot an existing SBIR Phase II project to support COVID-related efforts to assemble a solution using technology already in development in our SBIR Program.”
“The utilization of 3D knitting technology has proven to provide a more streamlined and efficient approach to producing an item,” said Laurra Winters, director of NCTRF. “Our continued work with small businesses and new technologies like 3D knitting will continue to move technology forward and greatly benefit our Navy’s warfighters.”
Using the standards of the N95 mask as a baseline, NCTRF developed the laboratory evaluation protocol for these non-medical face coverings. The yarns used to construct the 3D knitted face coverings are evaluated for comfort and filtration efficiency and the designs are assessed for durability.
A wear test was conducted over the summer and included a broad range of participants within NAVSUP, NEXCOM and Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). Using data collected during the wear test of the initial prototypes, a second face covering prototype was developed with design and performance improvements. The wear test of the second prototype will occur this fall.
“Assembling a team and collaborating on solving a problem by identifying a technological solution has served as a great example of our ‘Team of Teams’ approach to innovation at NAVSUP,” said Karl Larson, command science advisor and innovation program manager, NAVSUP.
Seamless 3D knit technology enables rapid prototyping, short lead times and sustainable production of textile products. The evaluation of the second prototype is expected to conclude by the end of 2020, with anticipated commercialization in 2021. NCTRF will continue to pursue new technologies and present new solutions to meet the requirements of Sailors within variable Navy environments.