Recently Diane Fagan Affleck and I ventured out on a field trip to Newark, Delaware which is the home of W. L. Gore & Associates. Gore is the maker of GORE-TEX® fabric among many other things. I love field trips because I believe anytime you get out from behind your desk there is a great opportunity to learn something you might not have otherwise learned. Learn we did!
W. L. Gore is an interesting company. Its origin was the basement in the home of Wilbert(Bill) Gore and his wife Genevieve (Vieve) in Newark in 1958 when they formed a company centered around fluorocarbon polymers most particularly polytetrafluoroethylene PTFE. PTFE was invented by Roy Plunkett in1938 (the same year nylon was invented) where Bill had worked for 17 years as a research chemist. PTFE is most well known by its commercial application of Teflon®. Bill believed that there were more potential applications for PTFE and that was the founding principle at Gore. The early applications of PTFE at Gore were in the electronics industry but research and invention took them in a number of other directions.
The culture at Gore is interesting. All of the employees (about 7000 around the world) are “associates” and they are encouraged to work in a team concept and have open & direct lines of communication. They are highly research driven and consequently are very innovative introducing ever new and remarkable applications of PTFE.
1969 was a watershed year for Gore. On July 21, 1969 NASA’s Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Astronauts Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. and Neil Armstrong installed seismographic equipment connected to the lunar lander with a small, lightweight cable manufactured by Gore. Later that year Bill & Vieve’s son Bob successfully stretched/“expanded” PTFE creating ePTFE whose most well known application today is GORE-TEX® fabric. GORE-TEX® fabric is commonly used as a liner material in jackets, other apparel, footwear and other applications where waterproofing is required. In simple terms how ePTFE and the waterproofed fabric works is think of a PTFE sheet as cellophane wrap. Gore takes that material and rapidly “expands” it under precisely controlled conditions making the e in ePTFE. The e means expanded. That expanded PTFE has billions of micro porous (really small) openings. OK now think of a chain link fence and that fence has been laid out horizontally and is floating in air. All of a sudden it starts to rain but instead of normal raindrops basketball size raindrops rain down and hit the chain link fence. Of course the basketballs are far too big to fit through the chain link fence openings and the basketballrain bounces off the fence and falls to the ground. The fence (analogous to ePTFE) is impervious the basketball size rain. That’s not the end of the analogy. If you were wrapped in cellophane you’d get pretty clammy and hot very fast. The molecules of sweat we produce are relatively tiny. Using the fence analogy visualize thousands of marbles trying to make their way through the chain link openings. Not a problem! Those marbles are akin to the size of sweat vapor molecules. The bottom line is that GORE-TEX® fabric repels rain because the pours of the GORE-TEX® fabric as so small relative to the molecule size of rain yet the fabric can breath and consequently the tiny sweat vapor molecules can escape.
That’s the most obvious Gore product we can relate to unless you use Crest Glide dental floss which is another Gore ePTFE product. These things are great everyday items but there is so much more that Gore does that made my head spin. The thing that “wowed” me the most were the medical items they’ve invented. One that seemed amazing to me was a cardiothoracic product named the GORE HELEX Septal Occluder, a permanently implanted prosthesis and catheter delivery system indicated for the transcatheter closure of atrial septal defect in more lay terms the closing/sealing of a hole in the two upper chambers of the heart.
W. L Gore & Associates was surely a fascinating place and I’d love to go back and spend more time there. You can learn more about Gore at http://www.gore.com/
I can’t wait for the next road trip!