High-tech fiber com­pany fight­ing odor, germs

No­ble Bio­ma­te­ri­als is ‘Scran­ton’s best-kept se­cret.’

The Citizens' Voice - - BUSINESS - BY JON O’CON­NELL STAFF WRITER

SCRAN­TON — A thin ny­lon strand danced into the hiss­ing cylin­der, whizzing around a col­umn of 400 tiny nee­dles at near-im­per­cep­ti­ble speed. A never-end­ing wo­ven sleeve ex­ited be­low and coiled onto a small drum.

Sue Cour­tright’s team man­ages 156 knit­ting cylin­ders, the first stop for ny­lon fiber in a high-tech world of an­tibac­te­rial, an­ti­static and elec­tro con­duct ive tex­tiles.

Cour­tright, vice pres­i­dent of engineering and fa­cil­i­ties at No­ble Bio­ma­te­ri­als Inc. in South Scran­ton, calls those knit­ting cylin­ders her “ba­bies.”

“Ev­ery one of these is like a kid to me,” she said, chuck­ling. “They all have dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties.”

At the cut­ting edge of this still-emerg­ing in­dus­try is one of Scran­ton’s best-kept se­crets.

Cour­tright says few peo­ple know that No­ble is there, and most are amazed when they find out what it does. It’s tucked away off Cedar Av­enue in a non­de­script in­dus­trial build­ing where about 170 tech­ni­cians and sci­en­tists work.

Re­cently, a global qual­ity and process ac­cred­i­ta­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion, the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Stan­dard­iza­tion, granted No­ble ac­cred­i­ta­tion for its up­dated 2015 stan­dards that seek height­ened risk preven­tion and man­age­ment in­volve­ment among other things.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion awarded ac­cred­i­ta­tion for its ISO 9001:2015 stan­dards in Au­gust.

“ISO’S all about ‘Say what you do and do what you say,’” she said be­fore launch­ing into a Ph.d.-level ex­plainer.

“It has to do with such things as: ‘Do you cal­i­brate your ph probe at the start of ev­ery shift?’” she said. “Be­cause, as you can imag­ine, ph is very im­por­tant in an elec­tro­less plat­ing bath.”

The feather in No­ble’s cap tells po­ten­tial cus­tomers the world over that the com­pany is thor­ough and con­sis­tent in its pro­cesses.

No­ble’s fibers are im­bued with sil­ver, which neu­tral­izes bac­te­ria and odors among other uses. The sil­ver bonds to the ny­lon through a chem­i­cal process, per­ma­nently chang­ing the fiber’s chem­i­cal struc­ture. When sweat hits it, the sil­ver re­leases ions that kill germs.

“We de­scribe our­selves as an in­tel­li­gent ma­te­ri­als com­pany,” said No­ble co-founder and Chief Com­mer­cial Of­fi­cer

Joel Furey in a re­cent in­ter­view. “And what we do is make the foun­da­tional tech­nol­ogy, in this case it’s fibers, it’s fab­rics ... it’s the base ma­te­ri­als that have the func­tion that gets in­te­grated into the fi­nal prod­uct.”

It doesn’t take long to find ev­ery­day stuff with No­ble’s tech in it.

The Ve­loce bike shop on Franklin Av­enue in Scran­ton sells Giro brand hel­mets with the com­pany’s trade­mark X-static fibers in the lin­ing.

The fibers also can­cel ra­dio waves, and they’re in the same kinds of sleeves that the Lack­awanna County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice uses to ren­der cell­phones un­us­able in­side court­rooms.

They’re in the cuffs and col­lars of fire­fighter’s jack­ets to re­duce rub­bing and ir­ri­ta­tion. The Marines put them in sleep­ing bags, socks and un­der­wear.

NASA uses them in pro­tec­tive sleeves around bun­dled ca­bles, shield­ing them from ra­dio sig­nals and elec­tro­static.

Pro­duc­tion starts with the ny­lon sleeve about the di­am­e­ter of a shirt­sleeve. Wo­ven to­gether, work­ers can eas­ily soak large vol­umes in a chem­i­cal bath where the met­al­liza­tion hap­pens.

Once dry, the sleeves go to a wind­ing room where work­ers fill small bins with the met­al­lized sleeves and load the loose ends onto spin­ning ma­chines.

As the sleeves un­ravel, their tips bob and float in­side bins like dozens of snakes in a long line of charm­ers’ bas­kets, their loose ends coming un­done, sus­pended in air as if some un­seen force was hold­ing them up.

The sleeves un­zip ef­fort­lessly — think of pulling the loose string when open­ing a bag of dog food.

For gar­ments, such as jog­ging shorts or golf shirts, No­ble guar­an­tees its clients, which in­clude the likes of Lu­l­ule­mon, Adi­das and Polo Ralph Lau­ren, 250 washes in a con­sumer wash­ing ma­chine. Af­ter that, the sil­ver’s ef­fects start to wane.

No­ble’s labs, just off the Scran­ton pro­duc­tion floor, re­cently bought a $150,000 ma­chine to test dura­bil­ity.

Pro­duc­tion en­gi­neer Thomas Dou­gal calls the Uster Ten­so­rapid the “heart of the lab.”

“This will tell us when it breaks, how much it can stretch be­fore it breaks,” he said.

Some of No­ble’s fibers con­duct elec­tric­ity for use in cloth­ing that talks to med­i­cal de­vices. Dou­gal uses a large mul­ti­me­ter to check af­ter run­ning fibers through the ma­chine.

“So we can stretch it thou­sands of times and then we can test it af­ter­wards to see how much of the elec­tri­cal prop­erty de­grades,” he said.

Clients send fin­ished prod­uct sam­ples to fab­ric tech­ni­cian Ad­die Lavelle, who fa­cil­i­tates test­ing.

She sends them to an­other lab where man­ager Michael Hauen­stein uses beakers of ar­ti­fi­cial sweat to test snips of cloth. To­gether, the team makes sure the sil­ver fibers work as promised af­ter clients weave them into cloth­ing.

Like other man­u­fac­tur­ers

through­out North­east Penn­syl­va­nia, Cour­tright said No­ble is al­ways hir­ing, and now there’s a void in jobs that pay $14 an hour, she said. En­try level jobs start at $11 an hour, she said.

Right now No­ble needs process en­gi­neers, equip­ment op­er­a­tors and “peo­ple that have strong sci­ence and math,” she said. “I can’t stress enough the need for sci­ence and math.”

JAKE DANNA STEVENS / STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Sil­ver-em­bed­ded fibers be­fore, left, and af­ter pro­duc­tion at No­ble Bio­ma­te­ri­als Inc., a man­u­fac­turer of high­tech fibers that kill odor and bac­te­ria in Scran­ton.

JAKE DANNA STEVENS / STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Pro­duc­tion en­gi­neer Thomas Dou­gal of Old Forge speaks at No­ble Bio­ma­te­ri­als Inc. in Scran­ton. Some of No­ble’s fibers con­duct elec­tric­ity for use in cloth­ing that talks to med­i­cal de­vices.

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