The U.S. Navy could soon be welding more than ships. The Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility, together with Rhode Island-based firm Propel, is testing a new method of garment assembly that doesn’t require stitches. Welded seams, created when two pieces of fabric are fused together by sound waves, could even help return manufacturing jobs to American soil. Another plus? A single welded seam could save time and money by replacing several stitch types, not to mention the phalanx of sewing machines each one requires.
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Propel was tasked with figuring out how to one of the Navy’s most costly and complex garments—the parka—without stitches. Using a federal grant, the company has been testing ultrasonic welding and other bonding techniques this past year.
Welded seams have the benefit of being lightweight, flexible, and waterproof, according to Propel president Clare King, who consulted with Patagonia and The North Face, both of which have dabbled with the technology.
Although both clothiers currently make their welded-seam products overseas, the military is required by law to produce its uniforms in the United States.
It’s too early to say if Navy sailors will be wearing welded clothes in the field, but Cleveland Heath, technical program manager at the Navy’s research facility, told the Associated Press that it’s important to seek out innovations that could save taxpayer dollars.
“We’re encouraged by the prospects of introducing a welded-seamed garment to the Navy and potentially offering this technology to other military services, with the added benefit of fortifying the U.S. industrial base,” he added.