Touring the Cotton Incorporated research facility in Cary, N. C., seems a bit like a combination of a visit to Disney World’s EPCOT Center and a session with Mr. Wizard. It’s educational—and entertaining.

Researchers here employ technology and science to provide real-world solutions to cotton industry issues and also look to the future to improve cotton fabrics and to find innovative uses for fiber and other cotton products.

Cotton farmers from across the belt got a chance to see how the investment they make in Cotton Incorporated research and promotion pays off during a recent tour of the headquarters and research facilities.

Ken Greeson, senior textile chemist, explained some of the work going on in the analytical laboratory and with finishing research. His department focuses on sustainability, creating more environmentally-friendly processes that reduce water, energy and chemical use in cotton processing.

“We’re trying to reduce the amount of hazardous chemicals used in processing,” he said.

He also looks at new products through analytical testing. Cotton’s ability to wick away moisture is one issue. “Cotton without a finish wicks well,” he said. “But what you put on it hinders wicking.”

A new process, TransDRY, moves moisture away from the body to the outside of a garment, he explained.

“We’re also working on cling test, reducing drying time and flammability.”

He said Storm Cotton, water repellant fabric, has been available for four years. “We’re also working on water-repellent and flame-retardant fleece. These products will dry faster in the home laundry, which means less energy and sustainability.”

Angela Massengill, senior laboratory technician in the product evaluation laboratory, said her department works with USDA to calibrate high volume instrumentation. “We also work with advanced fiber information systems (AFIS) to provide more detailed information. This process was developed for mills.”

The product evaluation lab also tests fiber strength and processing.

In the fiber processing laboratory, William Gunter, senior fiber processing specialist, explained that the facility includes a small cotton mill, with machines that replicate those available in commercial facilities. “This is real-world equipment, a mock-up that shows what happens in actual mills around the world,” Gunter said.

Evaluate new varieties

“We work closely with our ag research group; when they develop new varieties they bring the cotton into the processing lab to be spun.”

He said the facility has three spinning options—ring, open-end and air jet. They also have a dyeing and finishing laboratory.

“We work with product development,” Gunter said. “We can simulate a fabric without producing it. It saves time and money.”

Jeana Hatch, manager, product development, took that concept a bit further. She said using a computer assisted design (CAD) program, she can create fabric mock-ups that show what the actual fabric will look like.

“Our goal is to encourage use of more cotton,” Hatch said. “Using CAD systems is part of our sustainability focus. Designing by CAD saves time and money versus developing, cutting and producing a fabric.”

Yvonne Johnson, associate director of the product development lab, said documenting how certain fibers run on their knitting and weaving equipment provides information they share with mills and retailers.

“We look at trends, and we show fabric ideas and share information about fibers. We provide technical assistance, too.”

In the dyeing and finishing laboratory, Paul Edwards, dyeing and finishing technician, explained that part of the process is “finishing for the feel” of the cotton fabric. They also look at various methods of finishing materials—chemical and stone-washed, for instance. Sustainability is also a part of the dyeing and finishing process as research looks into methods to reduce water and chemical use.

Studies also consider how new cotton fabrics will perform in newer, more energy-efficient washers and dryers.