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    The Inventor: Alan Douglas

    10-Oct-2016
    By

    Paid Advertising. Brought to you by The North Face.

    Fifty years ago a climber saw the need for well-crafted gear that could withstand anything the mountains threw out. From this 'ah hah’ moment, The North Face was born, and quality craftsmanship and a devotion to serving climbers have remained core tenets.

    The Summit Series collection represents The North Face's commitment to building the world’s finest alpine equipment, designed for exploring the world’s harshest environments. Here are a few stories of the people who help craft and test their gear.

     

    ALAN DOUGLAS - Age: 61, Scientist, Inventor, Gear Nerd

    Douglas at work in the lab. Photo courtesy of Gore-Tex.When W.L. Gore & Associates opened their U.K. campus in rainy Livingston, Scotland, just outside of Edinburgh, in 1985, Alan Douglas joined the staff as the quality leader in manufacturing. In one of the wettest regions of Europe, Douglas' job was to ensure that the laboratory's products always kept customers dry. “After 10 years I became a product specialist,” he says. “It's the central role that connects all the teams.” Twenty-one years later, Douglas can't imagine any other career. “I’m having the most fun when I'm faced with a challenge,” he says. “That's what motivates me more than anything.”

    Before transitioning to the Mountain Sports Team, Douglas developed golf gear sturdy enough to stand up to Scottish weather, and sailing apparel for yachtsmen who battle squalls. Mountaineering kits are another challenge entirely. “Hardcore outdoor enthusiasts deal with whatever nature can throw at them,” Douglas says. “We have to design products that can survive tears, abrasion and weather, in rugged conditions.”

    In August 2015, The North Face and Gore began collaborating on integrating new waterproof membranes into the Summit Series collection. “We put multiple ideas on the table with them,” Douglas says. “We wanted to make outerwear in a style that had never been done before.” The trick was combining Gore-Tex technology with The North Face’s new seamless design. “Traditionally, we seal the seams with waterproof tape,” he says. “The North Face figured out a way to combine several materials into one continuous piece of fabric.” The engineers at Gore developed a novel lamination process to bond the FuseFormTM fabric watertight.

    Product undergoing simulated harsh weather. Photo courtesy of Gore-Tex.After Douglas’ team established a detailed product concept outlining their goals for the gear—waterproof, comfortable, breathable, and rugged—his lab tested various fabric samples. “Craftsmanship comes from leveraging the skills we’ve developed over many years,” he says. “We take that knowledge and use it to build the next product.” The prototypes were finalized, then run through a series of 10 durability trials, blasting them with harsh simulated weather to measure color fastness, breathability, waterproofness, and abrasion strength.

    The new designs held up through several phases of testing, and Douglas knew they had created something special. “Outdoor activities are getting more aerobic,” he says. “The challenge is to make something lighter, but without compromising durability. This is a different way of approaching that.”

    Douglas sees this advancement in manufacturing as part of a continuous evolution at Gore to meet customers’ demands for perfection. “There are two sides to our concepts,” he says. “We develop products not just because we can, but because we listen to what the consumer needs and values. Doing that means striving for new levels of performance.

    “The challenge of new, great technologies is to help the consumer understand it’s a new product, with a new level of performance, even though it looks like the same jacket you’ve seen before.”

     

    Alan Douglas is a Product Specialist in the Fabrics Division of W.L. Gore & Associates in Scotland. He’s been there 31 years.

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