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Staying warm on the streets

CMU center tests insulation properties of convertible coat/sleeping bag

Contact: ​Jeff Johnston

In the biting cold of February, a coat that converts into a sleeping bag can be life-saving for homeless individuals.

The Center for Merchandising and Design Technology at Central Michigan University recently partnered with The Empowerment Plan, a Detroit-based nonprofit, to measure the insulation properties used in its coats and sleeping bags. The data produced by faculty, staff and students working in the lab aid product designers in selecting materials that will keep individuals who are living on the streets warm.

"We have an environmental chamber where we can create any environmental condition," said Sue Wroblewski, CMDT research lab coordinator. "We made it like a chilly Michigan winter morning when testing the coat and sleeping bag."

The environmental chamber, housed in the Engineering and Technology Building, has a temperature range from minus 20 degrees to above 180 degrees.

The coat and sleeping bag were placed on the CMDT's sweating thermal manikin, which has 46 independently-controlled zones that allow for precise temperature and humidity measurements. This customized one-of-a-kind technology enables researchers to obtain data related to heat loss.

"I love that The Empowerment Plan is helping the less fortunate, and I think that’s important that we all do what we can. I love the opportunity to provide this service and this technology that they wouldn’t have access to any other way. We are doing our part to help those in need."​

 Sue Wroblewski, CMDT research lab coordinator

The CMDT employs students, such as Clarkston, Michigan, native Nicole Daniels. As a graduate assistant, she is gaining real-world experience that will complement her master's degree in apparel product development and merchandising technology.

"Functional design is a really important aspect of fashion because if you are going to wear something, you want to make sure it serves its purpose," Daniels said. "With The Empowerment Plan, the purpose of the product is to keep people warm. We want to make sure that it will meet that objective."

CMDT's sweating thermal manikin in the environmental chamber, wearing the coat and sleeping bag

The environmental chamber and manikin enable CMU faculty and students to examine the insulation properties of materials in a variety of environmental settings, said Maureen MacGillivray, fashion merchandising and design faculty member. They tested the materials in a dry state, as well as in a wet state.

In addition to textile testing, the CMDT aids companies in prototype development and evaluation, as well as wearer trial and fit. The lab has conducted research for a variety of companies and purposes — from Lululemon to Reebok, surgical gowns and Olympic ski-jumping gear.

"Consumers are smart these days," MacGillivray "They don't want to pay for products that aren't going to work for them. In the athletic-wear industry fabric testing is huge, as well as the work-wear industry. Manufacturers can take the test results and translate it into characteristics that they want to communicate to their ultimate consumers."

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