Next-Gen Emergency Flotations

A photo of the Next-Gen Emergency Flotations team working on their projectSponsor: Survival Innovations

Team Members: Jonathan Bethel, Wesley Butch, Tyler Johnson, Katherine Vlachos

Project Description: Would you believe it if we told you that the military flotation vests used today are the same ones used in WWII? Furthermore, these vests are bulky, heavy, and difficult for servicemen to repack, taking a full 45 minutes for trained personnel to correctly repackage a single vest. Our team was tasked with developing a new inflatable bladder material that is lighter-weight and improves the packability of the current vest. In turn, these improvements would give servicemen less of a physical burden and allow them to pack their vests more easily after initial deployment. After speaking with our sponsor, we determined the main aspects of the material to focus on were the fabric itself and its coating — we needed to figure out how to reduce weight and flexural rigidity while maintaining the original material’s performance characteristics. 

Our process for completing this project began by deconstructing military flotation vests down to their smallest constituents to research how each material’s physical and mechanical properties contribute weight and bulkiness to the flotation device. Using the current bladder material as a benchmark for weight, tensile strength, flexural rigidity, and air permeability we researched materials that met these same stringent performance requirements. After testing and evaluations, we decided on optimal fabric characteristics for the material, and we designed an experiment to test and evaluate lamination and sealing methods for prospective fabric coatings. After creating prototypes, we discovered it wasn’t difficult to find lighter-weight materials with greater strength than the current one, rather it was more difficult to find the right combination of coating type, coating weight, and sealing method to adequately seal the bladder Throughout this project, we have improved upon our design-of-experiment and project management skills thanks to conversations with our sponsor, professors, and industry professionals.