News | Oct 3, 2019

Could reflective clothes be made better? Here’s the latest Army research.

Hollow polymer fibers that are durable and bright could be an industry game-changer

Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division finish a ruck march.

Brian Glass/Army

A pair of scientists at the U.S. Army’s Soldier Center in Natick, Massachusetts, have invented a new reflective thread that they hope can replace the material currently used in high-visibility clothing and safety equipment.

The current method for creating what is known as retro-reflective material — material that bounces light particles in all different directions, rather than just back toward the light source — involves sowing or otherwise bonding retro-reflective surfaces onto an article that is desired to have an area of retro-reflectivity.

But that method has drawbacks. Being a two-step process requires more time and materials than is desired, and often the bonding is the first area to fail, causing the piece of clothing or gear to lose the critical reflective component.

Michael Ghebrebrhan and Landa Hoke from the center’s Fiber and Material Division have produced a fiber thread with inherent retro-reflective properties, according to the Army’s patent that was issued Tuesday.

The new retro-reflective thread will potentially remove a step from the manufacture of reflective materials and ensure increased longevity in everything from high-visibility safety vests to athletic footwear.

“Fibers with innate retro-reflectivity have remained elusive to date,” the patent states. “Clothes, decalcomanias, and signs are major end products for retro-reflective surfaces.”

The multi-faceted thread wraps several smaller fibers around an optically transmissive inner core in order to achieve an overall effect of high retro-reflectivity.

It’s a high-tech fiber that, with its robust and long-lasting properties, could prove the ideal source for reflective tactical military, athletic or safety clothing, according to Dan Swanson, senior technology manager at TechLink.

In coordination with the Army’s technology transfer program, TechLink helps private companies evaluate the commercial potential of Army inventions and negotiate mutually beneficial license agreements, e.g., a commercial evaluation license or patent license.

“The manufacturing technique is unique and the ability to use it to make visible or infrared textiles with high refractivity makes it an excellent candidate for both military and commercial purposes,” Swanson said.


Business inquiries can be sent to Dan Swanson at dss@montana.edu or reach him by telephone at 406-994-7736.