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From untreated fabric to camouflage material

Within the framework of the project MBAS all sorts of fabric are printed with the camouflage pattern. Some are mixtures of cotton and polyester fibres, others are made of pure polyamide fibres. Processing the fabric from its raw state when it emerges from the weaving plant into printed material ready to use is known as finishing and involves a large number of different stages. Here is a brief description of what happens.

Oskar Hollenstein, Project Manager MBAS, Competence sector Purchasing + Cooperation

Printed material with the four colours and the words "ARMEE SUISSE".

The modular clothing and equipment system MBAS comprises some 100 components and is divided into subsystems: combat clothing, supporting system, hydration pack and personal ballistic protection. All fabrics with camouflage print are procured by armasuisse, temporarily stored in a warehouse in Seftigen and supplied to the firms manufacturing the items of clothing and equipment.

All sorts of fabric are printed with the camouflage pattern. Some are mixtures of cotton and polyester fibres, others are made of pure polyamide fibres. Processing the fabric from its raw state when it emerges from the weaving plant into printed material ready to use is known as finishing and involves a large number of different stages. Here is a brief description of what happens:

Stage one: pre-treatment

Cotton in its natural state contains all sorts of impurities After spinning and weaving the fabric also still contains oils. These first have to be removed, so the application of the dyes is not affected and the fabric absorbs them evenly. These requires several washing processes, depending on the type of fabric. The pre-treated fabric is then dried.

The drop of water on the untreated fabric (right) remains on the surface; the pre-treated fabric (left) absorbs it immediately.
The drop of water on the untreated fabric (right) remains on the surface; the pre-treated fabric (left) absorbs it immediately.

Stage two: printing:

Each colour is printed separately. Separate categories of dye have to be used for each type of fibre. Cotton is printed with vat dyes, polyester with dispersion dyes and polyamide with metal complex dyes. The colour formulations to produce each shade consist of blends of at least two dyes. The plant printing the fabric mixes the dyes itself and can adjust the blends depending on the result. Camouflage print consists of four different shades (light beige, dark beige, brown and green). After printing the dye is fixed (with hot steam, for example) so the dye molecules are firmly attached to the fibres. Any remaining dye left on the surface of the fibre is washed off and the fabric is then dried again.

The skill in textile printing lies in the colour formulation, the printing process and fixing and washing the fabric in such a way that the camouflage pattern on the different types and batches of fabric always have the same design and shade.

Bedrucktes Gewebe mit den vier Farben und dem Schriftzug «ARMEE SUISSE».

Stage three: treatment:

The printed material is given different chemical and mechanical treatments, depending on its intended use. For example, it can be made water-resistant and crease-resistant; it can even be made easier to sew. Water-resistant materials for rainwear have a thin membrane bonded on. The membrane is so thin that drops of water cannot penetrate it, but water vapour can.

Water-resistant material: On the left is the loose membrane; on the right the membrane is being bonded to the reverse of the printed material.
Water-resistant material: On the left is the loose membrane; on the right the membrane is being bonded to the reverse of the printed material.

Textile finishing processes requires large quantities of water, energy and chemicals. We therefore attach great importance to suppliers having extensive chemical management processes in place and using modern equipment and efficient processes.

The MBAS project from different perspectives

Illustration of the MBAS Project

Three representatives of Swiss suppliers and project head Oskar Hollenstein from competence sector Purchasing and Cooperations share their impressions of camouflage and the specifications.

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From camouflage print fabric to bag

Sewing department with several sewing lines

The processing of camouflage print fabric into bags, also known as manufacture, is a highly collaborative procedure and encompasses a wide range of different work steps. These will be presented in brief below.

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