Written by Craig Wagner, CEO and President of Global Glove
Today, just like I stated 15 years ago, we find ourselves in the midst of a hand protection revolution. Now cut resistance has become a more paramount part of hand protection and the flat dip glove dipping process. Quite simply, flat dip technology, combined with new cut resistant fibers like aramids (including brand names Twaron®, Kevlar®) and high density polyethylene also known as HDPE (including brands like Spectra®, Tuffalene® and Dyneema®), are again revolutionizing the glove industry. Many of these cut resistant yarns double and triple cut resistance when enhanced with fiberglass or steel. New manufacturing techniques are changing the rules of the game for everybody in the hand protection business.
What is flat dip technology? Where did it originate? Why is its impact so great? The following will seek to answer these questions and provide a little history of glove breakthroughs over the years, adding some needed insight and perspective to the flat dip innovation.
What Went Before
The milestones in hand protection technology divide glove history into several neatly defined eras marked by advances in distinct areas of production. These developments are in the knitting, manufacturing, polymers and now cut resistant yarns used to make gloves. Breakthroughs were made in supported/coated gloves, polymers, high performance yarns and automated knitted gloves. Gloves could now be dipped directly to knitted gloves. No longer would general work gloves be viewed as a choice only between leather or canvas.
Within this genre come breakthroughs in chemical resistant lines through formulation of superior polymers such as natural rubber, neoprene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and nitrile. It is here we also find the precursors to flat dip technology with palm dipping techniques and more precise manufacturing processes. With natural rubber and synthetic coatings, workers were provided improved grip and handling and unparalleled dexterity.
Parallel to coated breakthroughs, were the advancements made in automated knitting. Cotton and synthetic shells and liners became lighter, tighter and more durable as automated knitting machines produced ever sturdier, highly resilient shells. Progress in all three components of glove manufacturing – knitting, manufacturing and polymers – has culminated in the advent of flat dip production. These pioneering firsts in automated knitting owe to the diligent work of Japan’s Shima Seika, Ltd. and now copied by numerous other knit machine manufacturing plants. The progress made, and cost reductions achieved, within the last 25 years outpaces the collective advancements in automated knitting 3,000 years before and since the invention of the loom.
The Intersection of Breakthroughs
Flat dip technology is simply the precise palm coating of a polymer onto an advanced knitted cotton or synthetic shell. As the name implies, flat dip is the application of a polymer coating from the palm to the sides of the fingertips. Where it differs from other coated gloves is in the shell itself and the precision with which the coating is applied. The shell is characterized by its knitting, which produces an extremely lightweight and durable glove with a greater concentration of woven fabric per surface area. It conforms to the hand and resists degradation through stretching.
The coating occurs through a careful dipping process that applies the polymer evenly over a discreet and specific area of glove. It’s the accuracy and even distribution of the coating that separates the flat dip process from other coated gloves. The result is an almost seamless coated glove that offers the wearer the comfort and feel of an unsupported, formed dipped glove with the durability and ruggedness of a knitted, coated glove. Add in cut resistant yarns used in the shells and you have the best of all worlds.
Flat dipped gloves combined with glove shells utilizing cut resistant yarns or the use of cut resistant liners, have changed everything. As safety engineers and risk managers see injuries and lawsuits decline with greater usage, the trend will only continue to grow. The technology is no longer in its infancy. All good manufacturing plants have automatic dipping. Many are perfecting automation of the entire glove process. Robots and other automation now do loading, unloading, online stamping/marking, and packaging. Those who do not automate will have a hard time competing in the marketplace. Bottom line is that over capacity has driven costs to the user down drastically.
Yarn and cut resistant improvements
Advancements in the fibers used, such as HDPE and Aramids®, to knit the shells before dipping have advanced as much as the dipping process. Adding nylon to either of these provides outstanding comfort. We see this in ladies nylons and the new athletic stretch clothing. Enhancing those same fibers with steel or fiberglass drastically improve cut resistance, sometimes as much as four to five times the cut resistance.
Each type of fiber has its advantage and disadvantages. Heat, wear, cut and comfort all vary with the type of base fiber and what is added to it making up the final yarn. Even some of the industrial polyesters have good cut qualities when enhanced and wrapped correctly, at lower cost.
Add in more capacity and competitors HDPE and Aramid® markets, and you see costs greatly reduced. Improved wrapping processes have also improved cut resistance and comfort.
It’s the actual applications that highlight the universal appeal of flat dipped gloves. From general construction to automotive, assembly, material handling and repair, the glove’s comfort and grip make it a favorite of workers in nearly every industry. And because of the precision in its knitting and the possibilities available with its coatings, flat dipped gloves are fast becoming the premier of choice for electronics and computer assembly.
The retail market, which typically lags behind in glove innovation, has now exploded with the flat dipped products. The cut resistant yarns are now starting to show up in the retail marketplace, specifically in the do-it-yourself and home improvement stores. And as we’ve learned in this business, what a worker wears on the job is what he or she typically wants when working at home.
Perfect glove? We are getting pretty close!!!
Craig Wagner can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 763-450-0110. Global Glove is a privately held glove maker headquartered in Ramsey, Minnesota. In addition to speaking and writing extensively about the hand protection market, Mr. Wagner is a frequent lecturer at on-site safety and quality assurance seminars for industrial workers across the country and around the world and has 30 years of sales and manufacturing experience in the glove market.