How do we decide which materials are used in our products? We analyze them in the MEC testing lab. Tucked around the corner from the busy hub of our design studios and production floor, test guru John Shen manipulates the machines and devices that grade potential components of MEC gear.
Having our own testing lab gives our design team immediate feedback. As we accumulate useful data it improves the efficiency of the design cycle, which means we can focus on using the best available materials for product design, as well as assess new technologies.
John works in coordination with our product managers and designers to QA and evaluate raw materials for MEC products. In a rather small space he manages to simulate conditions products may be exposed to during their life out in the world.
Our room of testing machines is kind of a fabric torture chamber. The fabrics are put under use abrasive wheels, stretched to their limit, and exposed to extremes of water and wind pressure. These tests assess physical properties like tearing strength, cutting resistance, abrasion resistance, pilling, and stretch and recovery. We want to know how product materials will perform and how their appearance will endure throughout their lifetime. For example, we don't want to use a fabric that can't stand up to the scratching of a Velcro® tab fastener while it's being washed.
John does a lot of laundry. What comes out in the wash is an evaluation of garment shrinkage, colour-fastness, and the performance of durable water repellency coatings.
Obscure names and acronyms like Suter test, MMT, CFM, and MVTR may be less than illuminating to read, but they open our eyes to performance characteristics like waterproofness (Suter), breathability (MVTR), wind resistance (CFM), and moisture wicking performance (MMT). You'll recognize the characteristics as key performance indicators for technical outerwear and base layers.
Our lab set-up and testing capabilities are always evolving and expanding. We want to establish a more direct relationship between testing in the lab and testing products in the field. Hopes are that feedback from the field may improve lab testing procedures. It's just another step to our ultimate goal – getting functional gear into the outdoors with our members.