SATRA during the Queen’s reign
Exploring some of SATRA’s achievements since Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne 70 years ago.
Image © Joel Rouse/Ministry of Defence
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and head of 14 Commonwealth Member States around the world – is celebrating a ‘Platinum Jubilee’ year during 2022. This marks no fewer than 70 years since her accession to the throne on 6th February 1952 as a 25-year-old princess. Queen Elizabeth became the longest-reigning British monarch in 2015 when she surpassed her great-great-grandmother Victoria’s rule of 63 years and 217 days. In the same year, she also became the oldest current monarch in the world upon the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.
The world has changed beyond all recognition since 1952, and SATRA’s progress during these past seven decades has been equally momentous. In this article, we will highlight just a few of the many noteworthy events during this time.
On top of the world
On May 29th 1953, just four days before the Queen’s coronation in Westminster Abbey, London, men stood on the top of the world for the first time, and SATRA (then called the British Boot, Shoe and Allied Trades Research Association) played a pivotal role in getting them there. On that day, the summit of Everest – the highest mountain in the world – was finally reached by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay as part of the British Expedition.
SATRA had been approached by the Expedition team the year before, and accepted the responsibility of designing footwear for the final assault on the very top of the mountain. It became apparent that new and radical ideas would be required to help the climbers cope with the conditions at such extreme altitudes.
A team of experienced SATRA footwear experts initially produced four trial pairs of boots. The insoles were made from leather with a lightweight rubberised fabric backing. Rubberised fabric was also used for the linings, and all seams were sealed with latex. The uppers called for a flexible and light leather which exhibited reasonable water repellence. Glacé kid was selected for this essential component, and it was sprayed with latex to provide an added level of protection. Part of the design required these uppers to be made considerably larger than the linings so that ample amounts of ‘Tropal’ insulation material – described as ‘an uneven web of kapok fibres’ – could be included.
Put to the test
At the outset, the four sample pairs of SATRA’s Everest boot were sent for assessment in the Swiss Alps during December 1952. Weighing just 1.9 kg, they were far lighter than comparable footwear (for example, Swiss climbers in an earlier expedition wore boots which weighed 2.9 kg).
Without the benefits of the climatic chambers SATRA has today in its UK headquarters, the cold weather test facilities at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough were utilised. The SATRA team’s hard work and knowledge impressed the expedition leaders, who agreed that what SATRA had produced was the best boot for the team. The risk of taking an untried footwear design to the top of Everest was outweighed by the advantages it offered.
The SATRA boot proved so successful that a total of 35 pairs were then requested, which were handmade to fit each member of the expedition team. The sizes required varied tremendously – some of the Sherpa guides needed UK size 6 boots suitable for a very wide fit, while Hillary’s size 12 feet were narrower than some of the Sherpas’ feet.
The overall production time was very short, with the delivery deadline for the finished boots being just five weeks after the start of the design work. Each pair was delivered complete with removable rubberised stockinettes, which were fixed to the outside edge of the sole in order to provide extra protection from wet snow.
After the team’s successful ascent, expedition leader Sir John Hunt wrote to SATRA, stating that the boots had been worn by all members of the party above an altitude of 6,100 metres and were a great success. Unlike any previous Everest expedition, not one of the British team had suffered from frostbite in their feet. Having been knighted for his role in the conquest of Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary later travelled to Kettering to thank the SATRA team for their sterling efforts.
Into the sixties
During the 1960s, research into the use of plastics was deemed a priority. This included investigating nylon for football boots, styrene for heels and thermoplastics for insole backparts.
SATRA Bulletin of July 1961 carried a major feature on a new product – plastic-coated patent leather. This article explored the production of what would in time become a staple of shoemakers around the world, and it also considered the best use of this new material and adhesion properties for sole attachment. So much interest was shown by SATRA members in plastic-coated patent leather, that a number of special events were organised in November of that year at SATRA House in Kettering to display specimens and discuss technical aspects of its use.
Welcoming Royal visitors
Friday July 9th 1965 was a very notable day, when SATRA welcomed Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh as they toured the various departments in SATRA House. The Queen is reported to have shown great interest in SATRA’s work, particularly as it related to children’s shoes. Almost everyone at SATRA was involved during this special visit – even the most junior members of staff, who often had the privilege of explaining how the test machines worked.
Sharing in technological advancements
Also in 1965, SATRA was asked by the UK’s Atomic Energy Authority to supervise the production of special boots to resist accidental splashing by high-temperature liquid sodium during rescue and firefighting operations. Forming part of a complete kit of protective clothing, the boots were made from natural side leather with a goat lining and chrome split interlining, together with an extra chrome split interlining in the vamp. They were designed to reach to the top of the wearer’s thighs, and the over-knee portion of the legs, which were in full chrome goat, were held up by elastic around the tops. The soles and heels were combination-tanned with a high chrome content, and even the box toes were chrome leather.
The Queen’s Award
In 1969, SATRA celebrated its 50th anniversary, which was enhanced by the receipt of the highly coveted Queen’s Award to Industry (now known as the ‘Queen’s Award for Enterprise’). These accolades were presented to companies or institutions in the United Kingdom in recognition of either technological innovation or achievement in the promotion of exports – or both. Thirty awards for technological innovation were made for 1969, and SATRA was pleased to be included within that select group.
SATRA’s award was conferred for one of the most significant technological contributions to shoemaking – the development of the moist heat setting process. Starting from research work in the early 1960s, SATRA developed a moist heat cycle which set the shape into footwear in minutes rather than hours or even days.
A new decade
The demand for SATRA’s services continued to grow during the 1970s. This was driven in no small part by the organisation’s ongoing research into a number of issues affecting companies within the footwear industry. For example, SATRA made a major breakthrough in the adhesion to rubber soles – especially thermoplastic rubber.
During the early seventies, SATRA’s laboratory work centred on upper preforming, welding, poromerics, polyurethanes and the analysis of wear returns. Research was also conducted into various footwear-related issues, including automation in the closing room, the link between permeability and foot comfort, the effect of fatty acids on urethane adhesives, the durability of PU-coated fabric and mechanical properties of upper materials.
Overcoming the risk of slip
Biomechanical research on the slip resistance of footwear began in 1974, with a fundamental consideration of the mechanism of slip during walking. At that time, technicians wearing safety harnesses would walk across a low friction surface and record where slip occurred. A force plate was used to measure the forces between shoe and surface, and slipping was analysed by multiple image photography. This work led to the design of the SATRA slip test machine in use today.
Diamond Jubilee celebrations
SATRA celebrated its Diamond Jubilee year in 1979, and this was marked by a visit to SATRA House of HRH the Duke of Gloucester – first cousin to Queen Elizabeth II – on 8th November. To commemorate the occasion, the Duke unveiled a plaque on the wall adjacent to the one marking his father’s visit to SATRA 30 years before.
Computers and robots
Footwear technology in the 1980s meant one thing – computerisation. SATRA was determined to keep abreast of all the latest developments in this field and identify how they could be used by members around the world. This research led to a suite of systems for member companies to use in their design and production processes. The first version of the ‘SATRASumm’ upper material management system was developed, together with the ‘SATRAData’ labour cost control system. Later, a computer-aided sewing machine training and diagnostic system called ‘VisionStitch’ was launched.
SATRA was a pioneer in the field of robotics in shoemaking, having become a registered consultant under the UK government’s ‘Robotic Scheme’. For example, in 1984, the organisation cooperated with a UK university to examine the cost, speed capability and ‘limited intelligence’ of most commercial robot units of the time. The area of research selected for this three-year project was the sole adhesion process, the aim being to produce a prototype unit system that could be used in the factory for the automatic attachment of footwear sole units.
Combating stormy times
The hurricane that blew across the UK on an October day in 1987 uprooted an estimated 15 million trees, and over 800 injuries caused by chainsaws were reported in just one ten-day period during the clear-up. SATRA had a chainsaw rig on which safety wear was assessed, so when local television companies were told that many of these accidents could have been prevented if the correct footwear and clothing had been worn, they were keen to report on our test methods. Both ITV Anglia and the BBC sent crews to film the chainsaw test rig in action and broadcast dramatic pictures of the protection offered by the relevant personal protective equipment (PPE).
Royalty and growth in the nineties
The opening of the ‘Edinburgh Building’ by HRH Prince Philip in 1994 provided SATRA with new test laboratories and improved working conditions. By the following year, the increasing volume of testing work – particularly on sportswear and safety products – was putting pressure on SATRA House. As a result, the board of directors decided to purchase land and build a 10,000 square foot office workshop and laboratory complex on an industrial estate some two miles away from the existing facility. This allowed for a further expansion of the Rockingham Road headquarters and laboratories to provide additional space for the equipment and sales area and PPE testing.
During 1995, SATRA was involved in a number of key research projects – investigating the potential for recycling waste materials, reducing the use of solvents in footwear factories, and developing a means of assessing the fitting characteristics of steel toe caps in safety footwear.
Since its inception in 1919, SATRA’s activities had been concentrated mainly in the footwear and allied industries. While this was still the case in 1996, the association’s excellent facilities and well-trained personnel enabled it to expand further into the areas of clothing and PPE. As well as safety footwear, SATRA was evaluating a wide range of other protective products, including football shin guards, motorcycle clothing, fall arrest harnesses, high-visibility clothing and hard hats. By 1996, around half of the work carried out at SATRA’s safety product centre was on the evaluation of protective gloves.
Relocating to Wyndham Way
In April of the following year, SATRA’s test equipment production and sales operation and safety product business area moved into the first phase of the Wyndham Way complex (the location of the current, but now much-expanded UK headquarters). The new building featured the largest accredited flammability chamber for consumer product testing in the UK, in addition to a six-metre drop height test rig for the assessment of fall arrest equipment. In June 1997, the SATRA furniture technology centre opened, with a fully equipped testing laboratory located on the Rockingham Road site.
A highlight of 1998 was the launch of a major training course and qualification for footwear technologists. The SATRA Accredited Footwear Technologist (SAFT) programme was developed in response to enquiries from member companies that were looking for special tuition for their personnel who were involved in the global resourcing of products.
A new millennium
The rich diversity of SATRA’s research and testing services was growing rapidly in expertise and coverage at the start of the ‘noughties’ as the organisation grew in stature. While the assessment of footwear continued to be its core business, increasing legislation led to demand for high-quality testing from a number of sectors, including automotive, furniture, floor coverings, toys, homeware and the supply of PPE for industrial and sporting applications.
As the Wyndham Way site was extended, the amount of environmentally-controlled laboratory space increased. In September 2000, SATRA purchased an environmental chamber, and today has the capability of assessing products from -40˚C to +50˚C and at relative humidity of between 10 and 90 per cent.
China office and laboratory
For many years, SATRA’s operations in China had been overseen by a UK-based team which visited on a consultancy basis. In order to establish a full-time and permanent presence in Dongguan, SATRA opened an office there on January 1st 2004 and soon employed Chinese and British members of staff.
Thermal performance and moisture management
During the late nineties, SATRA contributed to the development of a ‘breathing foot’ to ascertain the effectiveness of footwear materials. The testing of members’ footwear using a prototype machine began in 2004, and the first example of fully-functional test equipment to assess this characteristic was installed in SATRA’s footwear laboratory in January 2005. This machine – today called the STM 567 ‘Endofoot’ – and its associated SATRA test methods have established an impressive track record for the determination of two important footwear qualities associated with foot comfort: the footwear’s thermal performance and the efficiency of sweat (perspiration) management within the shoe or boot.
Growth in Asia
SATRA’s China Office team worked tirelessly to introduce the value of SATRA membership to Asian companies. In addition to visiting prospective and existing companies located in a variety of neighbouring countries, members of staff represented SATRA at an increasing number of major exhibitions in the region. By 2006, SATRA had nearly 300 member companies in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan alone.
Footwear team moves location
In the second half of 2006, SATRA moved its entire footwear testing laboratory – with more than 100 pieces of equipment and a 35-strong team – to new facilities in the expanding Wyndham Way complex. Over the years, SATRA’s scientific testing of footwear, components and related materials has grown in scope and technological complexity to become the world-leading research establishment it is today. A number of tests have become routine, including the ‘advanced moisture management test’, water resistance testing, cold rating evaluation and the use of a whole bank of SATRA STM 528 Pedatron biomechanical abrasion test machines.
To provide the required level of service to members and space for expansion over the following decade, the decision was taken to expand the Wyndham Way premises by a further 24,000 square feet during 2007. This new wing – called ‘phase 4’ – became a base for SATRA’s research work, the largest furniture testing facility in the UK, new flammability chambers and a specially-commissioned environmental testing area for footwear and other products. When finished, phase 4 completed the development of a 75,000 square foot advanced consumer product testing facility and represented a total investment of more than £5 million.
SATRA’s growth in China
After SATRA opened an office in Dongguan in 2004, it became apparent that customers in China and surrounding areas needed a fast and reliable testing service close to the point of manufacture. Therefore, in 2011 a ‘wholly foreign-owned enterprise’ was established in China, known as ‘SATRA Technology Services Ltd’. A fitting location for a new SATRA office, laboratory and training rooms was found in Hongwei Road, Dongguan, and these facilities were officially opened on 14th May 2012. By November, SATRA’s comprehensive testing facility was fully open for business.
During 2013, SATRA’s Dongguan office was enlarged after the acquisition of an adjacent property. This provided a significantly enlarged frontage to the street, which made the office easy to locate, and the larger space allowed SATRA to grow its technical services as demand continued to increase.
For the first few years of its operation, the new Dongguan laboratory limited its testing to safety footwear and gloves. Then in 2016, an extensive range of general footwear tests were added to the laboratory schedule to offer member companies a quick, reliable and accurate testing service for all types of footwear. In July of that year, new SATRA test equipment was installed and additional staff members were recruited and trained. Thereafter, the Dongguan laboratory was successfully assessed against the international ISO 17025 standard for testing and calibration laboratories, emphasising the professional service provided by SATRA’s China office.
Far-reaching survey published
Between 2012 and 2016, SATRA staff members conducted a substantial foot dimensions survey utilising three-dimensional scanning technology to determine the characteristics of modern feet in the UK, the USA and China. These regions were chosen predominantly because many SATRA member companies were manufacturing products for these important markets. This led in October 2017 to the publication of SATRA’s 300-page Global Foot Dimensions report, which is recognised as providing a core understanding of modern foot shape and highlighting some of the differences present between a number of demographics.
Ireland Notified Body established
SATRA decided to set up a new company to become a Notified Body inside the EU but outside of the United Kingdom. This led to the birth of SATRA Technology Europe Limited, located in Bracetown, near the Irish city of Dublin. In May 2018, this new company was appointed by the government of the Republic of Ireland as a Notified Body for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulation (EU) 2016/425. SATRA therefore had two Notified Bodies – the new one in Ireland and an existing one in the UK.
Within months, SATRA Technology Europe reported sustained growth in demand for its services certifying PPE products for CE marking and sale in the European Union. The number of SATRA PPE certification assessors working on EU type-approval certificates had more than doubled so, to accommodate anticipated further growth, SATRA Technology Europe moved into larger offices at the same Bracetown Business Park address near Dublin.
SATRA centenary marked by another Royal visit
Thursday 23rd May 2019 was a very special day at SATRA’s headquarters when His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester visited once again – this time to mark the organisation’s 100th anniversary. Journalists from BBC Television and BBC Radio attended the unveiling to record reports on the Duke’s visit and interviewed key SATRA personnel for broadcast that evening.
The Duke spoke to members of staff and invited international guests on the organisation’s impressive achievements during its century-long history, and unveiled a specially-commissioned centenary sculpture in front of the main building. He then toured a number of SATRA’s laboratories and saw a variety of tests being demonstrated.
New digital last assessment service
Footwear designers and manufacturers who use a last with improper proportions will create a poorly-fitting shoe which will affect sales and, if the product is purchased online, increase return rates. Over a four-year period, members of SATRA’s research team worked on a project to overcome such damaging consequences. This involved the design of a new automated process capable of assessing three-dimensional (3D) computer-aided design (CAD) files of men’s, women’s or children’s lasts in order to provide a number of key measurements. This substantial project was completed in early 2019, at which time SATRA launched a ‘digital last assessment service’.
Test machine development hub opened
In September 2019, SATRA opened a new purpose-built technical resource – fittingly called ‘Century House’ – close to its head office in Kettering. This new facility was established to increase capacity and efficiency of test equipment design and production, including the evaluation of prototype machines.
After the United Kingdom left the European Union on 31st January 2020, the UK adopted its own legislation with regard to placing PPE goods onto the UK market. SATRA received Approved Body status in the UK on 1st January 2021 and so can conduct conformity assessment work for manufacturers wanting to mark their products as being ‘United Kingdom Conformity Assessed’ (UKCA). Through the previously-mentioned SATRA Technology Europe in Ireland, manufacturers of PPE can also have their products certified for sale in the EU, thus enabling them to CE mark their products.
Into the future…
This article has highlighted just a few of the many projects engaged in by SATRA during the past 70 years. What is in store for the future? Research and innovation have always been a key part of SATRA’s very purpose, and they are continuing to be so. For example, the organisation is continuing to develop a range of new test methods, evaluate performance footwear and to identify new restricted chemicals. In addition, new services are being developed in SATRA’s key areas of expertise, such as slip resistance with underfoot traction and in fitting. Such launches are achieved through continuously evolving our fitting aids, along with utilising and maximising the latest digital technology. This allows SATRA to supply technology to help its members, so that they can, in turn, provide their customers – either online or in store – with advanced solutions to ensure a right first time fit.
We have a focus on supporting members and developing services around sustainability, such as lifecycle analysis, biodegradability testing, understanding and demonstrating durability, developing an understanding of new innovative and sustainable materials and their performance. This is all combined with SATRA’s production efficiency systems that will adapt to technology and members requirements.
This strategy will ensure that SATRA remains at the forefront of footwear technical knowledge and relevant footwear testing research and innovation, in order to support the industry and our members – throughout the entire footwear supply chain.
How can we help?
Please contact SATRA’s footwear team in the UK (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the SATRA China office (email@example.com) to discuss issues relating to footwear and component design, as well as testing and production.
This article was originally published on page 16 of the June 2022 issue of SATRA Bulletin.