By Holly O’Dell
The mass transit industry has a list of requirements for seat covers, and a high-performance technology called SuperFabric is trying to hit the mark. SuperFabric, based in Oakdale, Minn., starts with a fabric base, such as polyester, nylon or cotton, on top of which millions of tiny, densely populated resin guard plates are applied. The process “makes the surface of the fabric as strong as epoxy yet still flexible,” says Dr. Young-Hwa Kim, who invented SuperFabric in 1996.
The tough-skinned composite material features a variety of characteristics valuable for the public transportation market: It’s lightweight; breathable; and resistant to flame, stains and abrasion. Three years ago, the public bus system in Singapore turned to SuperFabric to replace its vinyl seats, which fell victim to hot weather and associated human perspiration. “Vinyl doesn’t last long [in those conditions]. The seats start to crack and they become ugly,” Kim says. “Even though the SuperFabric on the buses is three years old, it still looks fresh and clean.”
Kim reports that Asia and Germany are the biggest markets for SuperFabric in transit applications. “I hope it will come to big cities in the United States like Houston and New York. It’s a matter of time.”
In addition to upholstery for public transit, Kim sees school buses and public furniture such as airport seats as growth markets. SuperFabric also appears in protective clothing, safety footwear, backpacks and sportswear such as ski pants and knee pads.