National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center


Using a Different Approach Improves Products: How Talking with NASA Experts Made a Difference

November 28, 2017

Sherri Beam, Regional Economic Development Program – Level 2 Office


Because of a NASA Regional Economic Development (RED) event, a small company in Ohio is now approaching their research in a new way.

Credits: Photo by Brad Gillette, Creative Commons

Fire-Dex, located in Medina, manufactures protective clothing worn by firefighters. Since the number one job-related injury for the firefighters is heat stress, the firm continuously looks for new ways to improve their thick and heavy products.

In 2015, the firm participated in a NASA Roadshow held in Canton, Ohio.

The Roadshow was jointly sponsored by NASA Glenn Research Center, the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET), the Greater Akron and Canton Chambers of Commerce, Stark Economic Development and Stark State College, to help regional manufacturers solve issues or problems with processes or products.

According to Daryl Revoldt, executive director of workforce and economic development at Stark State, “some local companies may struggle with technical issues which may stall finding ways to implement better production or better products.

“This is an exceptional opportunity to link those companies with NASA scientists who are some of the smartest and best scientists in the world.”

Laurie Stauber, Regional Economic Development Midwest Manager at NASA Glenn, says, “each company submits a technical challenge statement during the application process. We then work with MAGNET, or other similar development organizations, to select the companies that will participate. The company representatives then consult with NASA subject matter experts, who delve into alternative methods to solve those technical issues.”

“We were interested in how does NASA look at designing gear from heat stress and efficiency perspectives for its astronauts,” said Todd Herring, Director of Marketing and Product Development at Fire-Dex.

Representatives from the firm were able to consult with ‎Senior Materials Research Engineer Fran Hurwitz at NASA Glenn, and Evelyne Orndoff, Soft Goods Development & Testing, Lead, and Henry Tang, Jacobs Technology, ‎Senior Materials Research Engineer and Advanced Materials Laboratory Manager, both at NASA Johnson Space Center. All are experts who conduct research on astronaut space suits.

Credits: NASA

“Adoption of a performance-based metric provides a direct measurement of the impact of a new design or material as it would be used, optimizing the wearer’s comfort and ability to conduct a task,” says Hurwitz.

From their discussion with NASA experts, the firm learned that NASA measures metabolic rate as one way to test the impact various materials will have on an astronaut’s performance.

Our industry does lots of bench top testing at fabric level, but the NASA approach gave us a different way to measure the effectiveness of our products,” added Herring.

Since their meeting with NASA, Fire-Dex began taking a more holistic approach to their design and material research.

Recently, the firm launched a new product that is significantly lighter than any other product in fire protective gear.

“We have lots of data at the material level but we are now striving to understand the true physiological impact through ensemble level testing. Understanding the science NASA uses helps us make a difference in the health and safety of firefighters and first responders across the world.”