Fashioning Standards for Textiles
In an industry that dates to prehistoric times, a century is scarcely a moment. But in the 100 years that ASTM International Committee D13 on Textiles has been in existence, it's no exaggeration to state that its standards have, in some way, affected every human on earth who has been exposed to modern civilization.
"Textiles touch everybody, everyday, and in ways they can't even imagine," says Vince Diaz, president of Atlantic Thread & Supply in Baltimore, Md., and a former vice chairman of Committee D13. From the clothes on our backs, to the furnishings in our homes, to the components in our vehicles, to the high speed circuit boards in our cell phones, to myriad industrial applications, textiles are everywhere. And they are likely to remain essential far into the future.
Textiles begin with plant- or animal-derived fibers, including cotton, flax, wool and silk, or synthetic fibers, such as nylon, rayon, polyester or acrylic. Fibers can be spun into yarns and then woven or knitted into fabric, or felted, combined with other materials and turned into nonwovens, braids or cords using other methods of production. Also included in the general category of textiles are the components, or subassemblies, used in their creation, such as thread, buttons, snaps, zippers, battings and linings. The result is a staggeringly broad range of materials, products, standards and test methods that are used by and affect everyone from fiber processors to manufacturers, buyers, wholesalers, retailers, consumers and even enforcement agencies ensuring that imported textile products meet the stipulations of international textile agreements.
ASTM Committee D13 originated in 1914. World War I was raging, cotton was the workhorse fiber of the United States, and cement bag consumers and rubber tire manufacturers were, respectively, seeking more reliable cloth for the bags and for tires whose skeletons were made from cotton fabric and then coated with rubber.
By 1916, Committee D13 on Standard Tests and Specifications for Textile Materials had developed its first three standards involving strip and grab testing to measure the tensile strength of cotton. Two years later, the committee expanded, establishing six subcommittees to consider humidity, specimens, imperfections, tolerances, testing machines and fiber identification, classification, nomenclature and specifications.
With the introduction of synthetic fibers in the 1930s and 1940s, textile capabilities and applications multiplied, requiring new standards and test methods. Skip ahead 96 years and today's committee includes 614 members, who participate in 29 subcommittees that oversee 343 published standards and coordinate with 11 other ASTM committees whose scopes also include applications and end uses of textile products.
"Applications for textile materials have exploded," says Adi Chehna, president, Textile Tech Services, Marlborough, Mass., and a past chairman of Committee D13. "I can't even think of an application where textiles are not used."
It's difficult to pinpoint just a few especially significant textile standards since there are so many. As the 68-page, 93-year-old standard D123, Terminology Relating to Textiles, confirms, textiles include many materials, and as Chehna explains, "Most textile companies only deal with a product at a particular stage in its production pipeline."
Also, "in an industry as highly segmented as textiles, subcommittees may be developing standards for a part of the market that's small, that may have only two to a dozen manufacturers," says Kay Villa, a Wisconsin-based former chairman of Committee D13 and retired textile consultant. "But within each industry sector, our standards are used predominantly."
One of the most frequently and widely used standards throughout the world is D1776, Practice for Conditioning and Testing Textiles, developed by Subcommittee D13.51 on Conditioning, Chemical and Thermal Properties. This standard addresses the sensitivity of textile fibers and fabrics to humidity; it applies when conditioning is specified in a test method.
In fact, most of the test methods developed by Committee D13 include precision statements based on statistical analyses that verify the consistency of data when multiple technicians and laboratories evaluate the same textile product in an interlaboratory study. "Marketplace confidence in Committee D13 standards is further validated by their citation in national and international standards," explains Diaz. Today, two subcommittees, respectively, oversee general and specific test methods. Among those methods are D5034, Test Method for Breaking Force and Elongation of Textile Fabrics (Grab Method), and its namesake D5035, Test Method for Breaking Force and Elongation of Textile Fabrics (Strip Method), two of the committee's earliest published standards.
Some D13 standards have gained significance because of their enduring relevance. For example, says Villa, "Subcommittees related to all the natural fibers - fibers that have been used for millennia, including cotton, wool and flax - have standards that have been used for a very long time."
Other venerable fiber standards have been developed to ensure quality in composition, performance and construction. For example, Subcommittee D13.58 on Yarns and Fibers, which incorporates synthetic fibers, has developed standards for sewing thread, such as D1423, Test Method for Twist in Yarns by Direct Counting.
Standard D6193, Practice for Stitches and Seams, overseen by Subcommittee D13.54 on Subassemblies, originated with the U.S. Department of Defense and was among many federal textile standards transitioned to internationally recognized, private-sector standards development organizations.
Subcommittee D13.66 on Sewn Product Automation, which has developed standards for digitizing pattern cutting and other manufacturing specifications for computerized equipment, is emblematic of how the textile industry has always embraced technological advances in the industrial world, says Chehna. "Centuries ago, it was gears and pulleys. Now, it's robots and CAD/CAM applications."
Apparel and home furnishing products, including carpeting, remain a huge area of standards development and cover many different textile characteristics, including breaking and tear strength, stretch, dimensional change and colorfastness. Understandably, standards differ widely depending on the end product and its application. For example, a swimsuit incorporating a stretch fabric, like spandex, has to meet different performance specifications than a silk tie, bed linens or tablecloths. The same is true of subassemblies. A zipper on a firefighter's protective gear will necessarily require different performance characteristics than a zipper on a briefcase or handbag.
"Contracts between suppliers and retailers have always been tied to performance specifications," explains Norma Keyes, a textile consultant based in Apex, N.C. "Historically, they've been a key aspect of the textile industry and the development of commerce."
Labeling also falls under the jurisdiction of Committee D13. D5489, Guide for Care Symbols for Care Instruction on Textile Products, affects just about anyone who does household laundry since it refers to those little icons on labels that indicate how we should wash, dry or otherwise care for our clothing, blankets, towels and other textiles.
A number of Committee D13 subcommittees have published standards that address the ongoing development and application of high performance engineered fibers in a variety of products. Two subcommittees whose standards have directly impacted anyone who has ridden in an automobile are Subcommittee D13.19 on Industrial Fibers and Metallic Reinforcement and Subcommittee D13.20 on Inflatable Restraints. Those committees have developed standards affecting automobile tire cords, hoses, belts and air bags.
Although the fiberglass (generally, a plastic matrix reinforced by fine glass fibers) that Subcommittee D13.18 on Glass Fiber and its Products addresses might be used for structural support in fiber optic cables, they are not the type of fibers that carry optic signals, explains Steve Parks, subcommittee chair and product manager, specialty products, PPG Fiber Glass Products, PPG Industries, Inc., Lexington, N.C. "Instead, D13.18 standards concern glass fiber textiles with traditional applications, including wovens, braids, narrow tapes and coated yarns. These structures have properties that make them especially useful for high temperature applications, insulation barriers, filtration media, paper and tape reinforcements, construction materials, medical casting, aerospace and other uses." Fiberglass products also touch our daily lives in applications ranging from window shades and insect screening to the high speed circuit boards used in our automobiles, cell phones and personal computers.
Two newer Committee D13 subcommittees could have a major influence on manufacturers and consumers. One, D13.55 on Body Measurement for Apparel Sizing, is developing standardized apparel sizing, a daunting task demanded by consumers, including the U.S. Department of Defense, who want assurance that whatever garment size they require, the fit will be consistent, despite the manufacturer, brand, retailer or type of clothing. The other subcommittee, D13.40 on Sustainability of Textiles, is still in its infancy and is currently working on a standard defining sustainability terms. But, notes Diaz, this subcommittee has the potential to grapple with the complete life cycle of textiles, from the resources they use during manufacturing to their eventual recycling or final end use.
Beyond impacting the textile industry, Committee D13 on Textiles has also had a substantial effect on ASTM International, spinning off several other committees, including D35 on Geosynthetics, and E11 on Quality and Statistics, and F23 on Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment. D13 also boasts a 30 percent non-U.S. membership, one of the highest among ASTM committees and a number attributed to textile manufacturing's move overseas as well as the need to meet ASTM standards to comply with U.S. and other textile trade agreements.
In addition to noting its longevity and international composition, Vicky Taylor, research technologist with INVISTA, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, who serves as the current chairman of the committee, emphasizes that the vast scope of Committee D13 helps distinguish and differentiate it from most other ASTM committees. "I'm proud of our members and the level of expertise they bring to the committee. They devote so much of their personal time to ASTM as volunteers and continue to provide mentoring assistance as we engage new members." Keyes adds, "It's a group that really enjoys what it does, a respectful, collegial group."
And they're already preparing for the next 100 years with the help of a subcommittee focused on long-range and succession planning.
"We've always been on the forefront of a lot of new and innovative things because we've been responsive to the marketplace," says Villa. The committee has also become more proactive, says Taylor. "We're exploring where the gaps are and seeking to identify opportunities where new standards and test methods are needed."
What might those new standards and test methods address as evolving fiber technology begets new applications and products over the next few decades? Diaz imagines fibers gleaned from new sources, such as goat's milk, and fabrics manufactured via 3-D printing. There may even be textile applications incorporating nanotechnology. Villa anticipates more smart textiles, especially apparel that can monitor an individual's health or incorporate electronic gear. Keyes notes, "With products now being produced with scents, antiseptic and antibiotic healing properties, and even medical repair and replacement capability - such as artificial veins created from textiles - who knows what the next new thing will be."
Adele Bassett is a freelance writer who has covered everything from youth gangs in Colorado to earthquakes in Connecticut while working for a variety of corporations and publications. She holds a B.A. in English, an M.S. in journalism and an M.B.A.