“Curiosity-driven research: something random, simple, maybe a bit weird—even ridiculous. Without it, there are no discoveries.” 1 These are the words of André Geim, who received the Nobel Prize in 2010 for discovering the strongest, thinnest material in the world: graphene.
But they also sum up the approach to new product development by Polyco Healthline. The company recently initiated a series of projects to apply the amazing properties of Professor Geim’s ‘wonder substance’ to glove manufacturing. Technical director Bernard Garvey explains: “At Polyco Healthline, we’ve always been proactive and inquisitive, looking at ideas and technologies that, on the surface, don’t seem to apply to what we do – but might do.”
After reading about the work of Dr Alan Dalton at the University of Surrey, Garvey invited the academic to one of Polyco Healthline’s monthly NPD meetings. Dr Dalton gave a fascinating presentation on the work of the Nanostructured Materials Group to incorporate graphene into natural rubber. As this is a substance used by Polyco Healthline in many of its products the company proposed working with Dr Dalton to determine how graphene could be used to improve certain properties of its gloves.
Says Garvey: “We are focusing on chemical permeation and thermal insulation in particular. At the atomic level, graphene can ‘line up’ and form a barrier, which will stop chemicals getting through. With other chemically-resistant materials, the substances will eventually find a way through, even if there are no holes or tears. We are looking to develop a material that will block chemicals completely and never allow them through, or at least slow down permeation considerably.
“This ability of graphene to line up at the atomic level is also the key to thermal insulation. Normally, to provide protection from heat, a glove has to be pretty bulky. This means it is not particularly comfortable to wear, and dexterity is compromised. Using graphene we could, for example, produce a household rubber glove that completely protects the hand from heat but which is light, comfortable and extremely dextrous.”
The projects are currently underway, with a PhD student on Dr Dalton’s team working on them full time. Polyco Healthline is aiming to launch the new products in 2017 and emphasises that practicability – in terms of incorporating the new technology into its manufacturing processes – and affordability have been factored into the project requirements.
Dr Dalton comments: “Through collaboration with industrial partners like Polyco we can pool our collective expertise and translate research into future products that will benefit consumers.”