02 August 2017
In the first of our Meet the Expert series, we speak to Peter Goodwin, our Head of Technical, to find out more about how he got into testing, his role at James Heal and his thoughts on the industry.
Peter, how did you first get involved with Textile Testing?
It began in the 1970s, I left school before my A-Levels and looked for a job that would send me for further education. I found a job working in a laboratory for the Courtaulds Group which did dyeing and finishing of woven textiles, for apparel and work wear. I learnt how to colour match, dye recipe formulation and developed exceptional colour vision.
It was a large factory, with analytical/chemical, colour fastness and physical testing laboratories – we would analyse incoming chemical materials to make sure they were fit for purpose in any of the critical processes we had. I attended college at the same time, and came away with a HND in Textile Colouration.
I started working in physical testing in the early 1980s. The physical testing laboratory was accredited by Marks & Spencer and the Ministry of Defence for military fabrics. The coal mining industry was large in the UK at the time and all the miners used to wear high visibility orange (HVO) uniforms that were very highly specified. I worked in physical testing until the end of the 1980s, until the company moved their production elsewhere in the UK.
I then worked for a company that produced home furnishings, which involved heavy fabrics such as curtains, drapes and upholstery. We were printing over a million metres of fabric a week, which was all going through the laboratory. We did invest in a brand new laboratory with new equipment, and most of this was from James Heal. I’d always known James Heal as we had small pieces of equipment, but this was the first time I had bought something significant from them.
Do you have any advice on setting up a new laboratory?
Start with lots and lots of research – look at all the standards you want to test to and work out what is required to meet them. What’s crucial at the start, if you are doing physical testing, is to put money aside for controlled environment equipment to ensure your results are consistent. If you are processing things like cotton, wool and viscose, these fibres absorb moisture, and your results won’t be right if you don’t control the environment they are tested in. For instruments, consider what is best for ease of use and accuracy, and which instruments are an investment, built to last.
When did you start working for James Heal?
I started at James Heal 12 years ago as a textile technologist, with 30 years of experience behind me in the same sorts of businesses that our customers work in. I was working on similar things to what I do now – evaluations, support, new instruments – but on a much smaller scale. I’ve worked my way up to Head of Technical, and we now have 4 members in the Technical Team.
The Technical Team are involved in far more than people realise. We offer applications support to customers around the world, and are also responsible for quality control of our test materials. We help with the product development process, every instrument needs checking to see if it complies with relevant standards, it has to be evaluated from the user perspective then we create an operator’s guide. We work with instrument prototypes to ensure they meet our customer’s needs, and instruments won’t go out the door unless they have our stamp of approval.
We also sit on British standards committees to guide the creation and revision of standards. We offer our expertise on testing as technologists, but also on how the instruments that do the testing work. We’re involved in committees for physical testing, safety of textiles, colour fastness, flammability and leather.
When I started at James Heal I had a reasonable level of knowledge, but you soon realise there’s a world of testing around other industries which you have to learn.
How do you become an expert in these areas of testing?
It takes time, gaining a comprehensive understanding isn’t something you can do overnight. It takes reading, research, discussion and a lot of testing for things to fall into place. You really have to get stuck in, observe the testing, watch the behaviour of the fabric, and learn how one fabric reacts compared to another.
Our customers have a lot to think about, they don’t just have to contend with the specification of a fabric being right, or the colour fastness being correct, they also have to consider environmental standards, what chemicals they user, the safety of their products. I like to think James Heal has a lot of people with laboratory and quality assurance experience, both in the Technical Team and around other parts of the business, who can pass on their expertise on some of these issues.
Do you have a project you are particularly proud of in your career?
There’s a clear answer for me here – Titan, James Heal’s Universal Strength Tester. I was involved in the development of this instrument even before I worked at James Heal, when the Innovation Team came to visit me at a previous company to see how we used tensile testers. They got an idea of how the software and the machine should work, and developed Titan1 as a result. In fact, some of our printed fabric specimens were used in the brochure for this instrument.
Once I joined James Heal, I became properly involved in the development in detail for Titan 4 and the TestWise software. I worked with the software designer to describe how it should work from a technologists, and users, point of view. I was very proud when it was released, it was so flexible compared to what we had before, the result of bringing a lot of experts together under one roof to get both the design and the functionality right.
From that point onwards, I took on the role of Titan expert, and have remained involved in its development to the current version, Titan5.
What is it like working for James Heal?
I’ve been here for 12 years, and I still look forward to coming to work in the morning. There’s no doubt it's busy and the workload is getting bigger as we grow, but it’s also enjoyable and rewarding, particularly when you solve a big testing problem, help a customer or have input into a great product. The people at James Heal are very professional and have a lot of integrity, and I like that we always try to do the right thing. The Technical Team look after a working laboratory, and it’s very impressive to walk in a look at the instruments we produce.
Finally, what else interests you outside of work?
I’ve always been interested in computers and I thought it was an area I might move into after school. I owned some of the first home computers which came in kit format and had a total 1kb of memory (yes, 1 kb!). I put this interest to use at work helping with the development of testing software, and at home I’m studying how to code in Python.