When DuPont debuted its Nomex flame-resistant fiber in 1967, people were curious to see how it performed. So in the early ’70s, DuPont created Thermo-Man, a six-foot-two mannequin surrounded by a dozen propane torches, to demonstrate the material’s abilities. The company has been regularly updating Thermo-Man ever since, using it to test the properties of new textile fibers such as Protera, which debuted in 2009 and protects industrial workers against electric arc exposure.
Today’s Thermo-Man can reach temperatures up to 3,500°F and has 122 sensors that constantly relay data to a nearby computer; it is sometimes used as a testing tool for the designers who incorporate DuPont’s fibers into garments. In one trial, DuPont senior research chemist Richard Young says Thermo-Man revealed that the sleeves on a first-responder’s uniform might hinder Protera’s ability to prevent burns. A typical Thermo-Man test lasts between 3 and 10 seconds, but rarely goes longer than that. “At 20 seconds, we’ll start melting metal,” Young says.