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Talking Point | September 2017

"We also assess how safe textiles are for environs"

The Hohenstein Institute recently appointed Dr Timo Hammer to lead the William-Küster Institute (WKI) for Hygiene, Environment and Medicine. Hammer shares his plans for the internationally renowned testing, certification, and research organisation.

Tell us about the Institute for Life Science at Hohenstein’s Research and Service Center.

Dr Hammer: In a nutshell, we use science to grow business for our customers. Through our extensive William-Küster Institute (WKI) laboratory, we conduct research and provide testing services on the biological performance and biological safety of textiles as well as other kinds of products. Hohenstein experts—chemists, biologists, textile engineers, medical experts—work closely together on projects to provide comprehensive perspective. This experienced team uses Hohenstein’s state-of-the-art technology and methodology to test products according to all the relevant international standards but, most importantly, works closely with customers to design unique, tailor made programs to provide specific answers and solutions for their particular needs.

What are the most important services that the Institute offers to companies in the US?

Dr Hammer: Ascertaining biological performance is a significant focus of our work, which spans many applications and products. For example, we determine how effective antimicrobial fabrics are against various bacteria, fungi, and viruses depending on the specific organisms about which customers are concerned. Many other labs can only work with bacteria. Our WKI lab also offers tests with various fungi, such as mold fungi and medically relevant fungi. In addition, we are one of the few labs able to test materials on their efficacy against viruses.

Aren’t antimicrobials used to keep textiles from smelling bad?

Dr Hammer: Yes, antimicrobials control microorganisms and, therefore, the malodourous molecules they generate. However, odours can originate from other sources as well. We are working to understand fully how odour molecules adhere to fibres and how these molecules are released from fabrics so that they can be smelled. We have unique technology that tags odour molecules so that we can count and track them wherever they are. We can compare products under different conditions. Experts also evaluate fabrics with their well-trained noses to give customers a comprehensive picture of how their products will perform when real consumers use them. Odour management research and our work with clients will help us recommend ways that textiles can be used to help manage odours of all kinds.

What do you mean by the term “biological safety” with regard to textiles?

Dr Hammer: Essentially, we quantitatively and qualitatively evaluate how textiles interact with healthy human skin. We use a proprietary artificial skin material to determine how textiles affect skin microflora and to measure the transfer of substances such as vitamins, minerals, and other additives from the textile to the skin. Wear testers give us excellent insight into how textiles affect real human skin and we can observe any bad physical interactions like irritation, redness, dryness, etc.

Within “biological safety”, we also include assessing how safe textiles are for the environment. Do textiles biodegrade without leaving toxins? Conversely, if the textiles are supposed to be permanent such as for landscaping, can we be sure that they do not biodegrade? WKI can analyse both sides of the equation under laboratory and real outdoor conditions to determine the answers.

Doesn’t biodegradability also fall under the textile sustainability umbrella?

Dr Hammer: It does. Sustainability is a consumer mega trend and consumers are becoming very interested in the environmental and social impact of the textile products they choose. Biodegradation is an important consideration in life cycle analysis, which examines how products are produced, used, and discarded. Another hot topic in sustainability is the ability to trace sustainable products, for example, organic, non-GMO cotton, through a complex, global supply chain. At WKI, we are working diligently on developing a powerful traceability tool that will help our customers verify the materials used in their products. In addition, we offer a full portfolio of tests and certifications including the highly respected OEKO-TEX programs to help customers confirm that their products are free from harmful levels of dangerous chemicals and responsibly made.

Interesting. Do you have any other new services in development?

Dr Hammer: Absolutely, but unfortunately I am not at liberty to discuss them at this time. We will be unveiling several new products and innovations this year that have resulted from our research work and from collaboration with our customers.

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