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One hundred years of SATRA: the 2010s

Bringing the organisation's century-long history up-to-date by considering the significant progress seen during the current decade.

by Stuart Morgan

SATRA entered its tenth decade of service with great ideas and an enthusiasm that would produce significant developments to match those achieved by colleagues in previous years. This progress would include a number of ground-breaking research projects, the establishment and continual growth of a test laboratory in China, and the publication of valuable data resulting from a considerable international foot dimensions assessment programme.

New test for slip resistance

SATRA has long been at the forefront of innovation – particularly with regard to assessing the slip resistance properties of footwear and floorings. Since its introduction in 1992, the SATRA TM144 ‘Friction (slip resistance) of footwear and floorings’ test method has become the international standard for dynamic friction measurements.

This test has been regularly updated over the last two decades to take into account developments in slip technology and science. One year into the new decade, the scope of this method was increased to specifically include soft ground such as turf and synthetic sports surfaces, as well as ice, and SATRA TM144:2011 was published.

SATRA’s experience in assessing footwear on ice resulted in the definition of two standard forms of ice – ‘smooth’ and ‘frosted’. In addition, the standard red ‘quarry’ floor tile used in the test for many years was re-examined to see how relevant and representative this surface was to modern equivalents. This investigation led SATRA to adopt a new reference surface which exhibited more consistent surface frictional properties.

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. Dignitaries present at the commemoration included SATRA chief executive Austin Simmons, Chen Zhi Chao (Dongguan Government deputy secretary general), Her Majesty’s consul-general in Guangzhou Alistair Morgan, and Robert Tsai – vice chairman of the SATRA China Advisory Board. A red ribbon was cut to mark this notable occasion, after which guests toured the offices and laboratory, and met other SATRA members in the footwear and leather industries.

SATRA's new laboratory in China was officially opened in 2012

When welcoming guests and SATRA members from all across China, Mr Simmons said: “This laboratory and office complex that we are opening provides a solid foundation from which to better service our Chinese members and customers.”

New system for footwear producers

In January 2013, SATRA released a new production efficiency system called ‘SATRA TimeLine’. This was designed to accurately cost time and labour in footwear production, in addition to allowing product line management.

At its core was a predetermined motion time system and best practice operation values for every single shoemaking task. These were based on an industry-accepted database, as well as SATRA’s vast shoemaking experience and knowledge of the footwear industry. Member companies in the footwear industry quickly showed considerable interest in this new system.

Since its release, SATRA TimeLine has helped a growing number of footwear brand owners and manufactures to accurately cost new styles up front. It has also enabled factory managers to make better use of labour and resources, while streamlining production for optimum output.

China laboratory opens for business

The November 2012 issue of SATRA Bulletin announced that SATRA’s comprehensive testing facility located in the Guangdong Province of China was fully open for business.

A range of test machinery built to specification by SATRA in the UK had been installed in the purpose-built footwear testing laboratory, which was at the outset equipped to test all types of safety footwear, as well as more general shoes and boots.

The SATRA laboratory in Dongguan

Two temperature-controlled testing areas had been installed. One of these was for general preparation and testing, and the other area was environmentally conditioned with full temperature and humidity control to 23°C/50 per cent RH, in order to serve more precise testing requirements.

By the end of 2013, SATRA's Dongguan office was enlarged after the acquisition of an adjacent property. This work 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. In the same year, Liam Donnelly joined SATRA as general manager of the China office, having gained considerable experience in the footwear industry with a number of international brand owners.

Welcoming a visitor to SATRA’s China office in Dongguan

Improved head office laboratory facilities

Expansion also took place at SATRA’s head office in Wyndham Way, Kettering in 2013. The conditioned laboratory space was extended by the commissioning of a new 115m2 20°C/65 per cent relative humidity laboratory. The facility greatly increased SATRA’s capacity to both condition products and conduct testing.

The new laboratory formed part of a large building programme that also included an expanded research and development area to accommodate SATRA’s increasing level of authorised and contract research.

Elsewhere, an additional 20°C laboratory provided larger and better space for SATRA’s footwear testing and safety products departments. This freed up laboratory space which was re-fitted as part of the overall project.

A valuable library of information

A series of technical ‘basic shoemaking’ articles appeared in SATRA Bulletin between 2009 and 2012. Written by SATRA technical experts, the articles described and outlined the entire shoemaking process – from pattern cutting to final inspection and shipping. The series was immediately popular, and within the first year, numerous requests were received for the knowledge to be made available in one publication. Hence, once the series was complete, work began on reformatting the entire content to produce a traditional-sized book. SATRA took delivery of the first hard-bound limited edition in 2013.

Each of the 44 chapters took the reader through a particular stage in the footwear manufacturing process and quickly proved to be of value to everyone working within the footwear manufacturing sector, including students, designers, developers, technologists, operatives, supervisors, managers and directors. It was also recognised as useful to sourcing companies, retailers and product developers, as well as components and materials suppliers throughout the footwear supply chain.

Death of Graham Butlin

Graham Butlin, one of the most influential figureheads in the footwear industry of his time, died in 2014 at the age of 84. After joining the company as a research physicist in 1958, he had a distinguished 32-year career with SATRA, and was appointed as director in 1976. Mr Butlin retired 14 years later to take up theological studies at St John’s College in Nottingham.

During the 1960s, Mr Butlin led a team of SATRA experts that was responsible for a number of shoemaking innovations. These included the design of moist heat setting for footwear, which revolutionised the shoemaking process and subsequently won the Queen’s Award for Technology. As director, he played a major role in SATRA’s international growth and was a tireless traveller, a superb lecturer and a skilled negotiator. Mr Butlin was one of the company’s most charismatic and influential people, and was instrumental in helping to develop SATRA into being a respected international organisation. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1983 for services to the footwear industry.

First CAB meeting in Bangladesh

The China Advisory Board (CAB) meeting in April 2015 was held in Bangladesh for the first time. The event was arranged to enable members of the board to see how the country was developing, visit a number of new construction sites relating to leather tanning and footwear manufacture and tour a number of SATRA Chinese and Bangladeshi members’ facilities. During the formal CAB meeting, James Ho, general manager of Xin Chang, made a presentation on his company’s development. In addition, CAB chairman and SATRA chief executive Austin Simmons spoke about the updated version of the TimeLine factory production planning system. After the meeting, members of the CAB inspected the Xin Chang production facilities and SATRA-accredited test laboratory, as well as visiting the nearby Pou Hung factory.

Abrasive water test

Having witnessed a rise in popularity of extreme sports, and a corresponding demand for ‘tough’ footwear that can withstand long periods of use in harsh wet conditions, SATRA researchers developed a new test based around the STM 505 dynamic water resistance test machine.

It was recognised that the standard dynamic water resistance test was not representative of some of the harsh conditions encountered by high performance footwear, such as military boots, hiking footwear and trainers worn for cross-country or off-road running. These types of footwear are often exposed to long periods of immersion in muddy water, and subject to the ingress of sand and grit particles, as well as the water.

Footwear assessed in the SATRA TM446 ‘Resistance to waterborne abrasive materials’ test (right) compared to an untested sample

Initial trials proved that simply adding sand or abrasive powder to the water in the tanks of the SATRA STM 505 machine would be ineffective, as it quickly fell out of suspension and settled. The new test – SATRA TM446 – was published in mid-2015 and involved a quantity of abrasive aluminium oxide being kept circulating in the water tank by means of air diffused into the water through three pneumatically fed ‘bubble baffles’ placed at the bottom of the water tank. A natural foam suppressant was also added to the water to reduce foaming caused by the agitated water, and which helped to prevent spillage.

China testing scope enlarged

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.

New cold rating test method

According to a report in the May 2016 issue of SATRA Bulletin, the development of smaller sizes of SATRA heated foot forms led to a revision of SATRA TM436:2010 – 'Determination of whole shoe thermal insulation value and cold rating'. A new test method, which kept the same title, was published as SATRA TM436:2016 and covered the use of SATRA heated, perspiring foot forms in UK adult size 1 and child size 10.

SATRA invests in footwear X-ray system

In October 2016, SATRA invested in an advanced X-ray system for examining footwear, to replace the organisation’s previous unit. A large belt-fed system that could be used for non-destructive testing of a whole range of products, the new Ishida IX-GA-4075-S could help to assess products as wide as 400mm. This provided the ability to scan boxed or unboxed products as large as boxed men’s safety footwear. With this equipment, SATRA was able to offer an enhanced range of assessment services to members, such as locating and identifying metallic and non-metallic objects within samples, identifying defects in moulded materials, and confirming the presence and correct position of items within the footwear, such as toe caps, shanks and perforation-resistant inserts. It could also be used to check for defects within shanks, toecaps and other embedded items, the bulk checking of a large quantity of goods, individual assessment and analysis of a single piece of footwear to identify faults or potential problems, and providing detailed images for inclusion in test reports.

Development of mud simulant

The growing demands of industry often call for the development of novel testing approaches. In this context, combinations of solid surfaces and lubricants can help to represent real-world situations. Until 2017, however, there was no standardised deformable slip material capable of simulating unpaved or off-road surfaces (for example, mud) in a slip event.

The ‘mud simulant’ project enabled SATRA to develop a material meeting these requirements. Formulating an artificial surface allowed both composition and properties to be precisely tailored. A key focus of the project was to ensure that the mud simulant could represent the potential range of underfoot properties, yet remain reproducible for repeated testing.

Achieving a realistic mud simulant helped to identify how footwear could be ‘anchored’ at critical slip points of the step. As a first attempt to simulate a loose, deformable surface, the requirements of repeatability and differentiating footwear by Coefficient of friction (CoF) were prioritised. The intrinsic variability of real mud made testing difficult. However, this project provided a good foundation for ongoing development, which led to the test being published as an annex to SATRA TM144.

SATRA developed a mud simulant for realistic slip testing in 2017

Far-reaching survey published

SATRA’s Global Foot Dimensions report was published in October 2017 as the culmination of a four-year research project utilising three-dimensional scanning technology to capture and assess thousands of feet in different regions across the globe.

A major project was undertaken between 2012 and 2016 to scan thousands of feet in various geographical locations, including China, the UK and the USA

Between 2012 and 2016, SATRA staff members conducted a substantial foot dimensions survey. This began as an exercise to determine the characteristics of modern feet in three geographical regions: the UK, the USA and China. These regions were chosen predominantly because many SATRA member companies were manufacturing products for these important markets.

The collated results of this survey were made available as a 300-page printed and bound report reserved for SATRA members. SATRA’s Global Foot Dimensions report provides a core understanding of modern foot shape and highlights some of the differences present between a number of demographics. The openness and systematic explanation of the subject matter is becoming a benchmark for the footwear industry, enabling manufacturers to offer a greater degree of fit and comfort to the end customer. The report disseminates a series of fundamental foot dimension statistics, including foot breadth, joint girth and instep girth, and aims to update the industry’s understanding of foot shape and sizing.

SATRA establishes Ireland Notified Body

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, which was located in Bracetown, near Dublin in Ireland. On 21st 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 and thereafter appeared on the European Commission’s website for New Approach Notified and Designated Organisations (NANDO). 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.

Demand for SATRA test equipment

There was a substantial growth in the level of orders for test machines manufactured by SATRA during 2018. This was also the best year on record for the volume of SATRA test consumables shipped – seen as evidence that many test laboratories around the world were acknowledging the importance of using high quality reference materials and consumable items that satisfy relevant test methods.

Centenary sculpture and film commissioned

The year 2019 ushered in SATRA’s 100th anniversary. A number of commemorative events were planned for this noteworthy time, including the commissioning of a local artist to create a contemporary sculpture called ‘No Compromise’ to stand as a reminder of a century of research and testing. Inspiration for this piece was provided by the forces of stress and tension played out on materials under test in SATRA’s laboratories. The final design created solid weathering steel plates being pulled apart by 100 stainless steel cables clamped and tightened in stone. The evolving dynamic contrast was said to emphasise the uncompromising nature of scientific investigation and precision as materials and components come and go over time.

SATRA also commissioned the UK Film School in Northamptonshire to produce a short film to highlight SATRA’s history. This was made available for viewing on the SATRA website and through the organisation’s FaceBook, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts.

Taking SATRA to new audiences

In early 2019, SATRA took part in a number of events which were designed for very different delegates. A series of SATRA breakfast meetings – the first of which were held in London and Leicester – allowed UK-based delegates to meet with members of the SATRA team and also view short presentations on a number of key topics that had previously been identified as interesting subjects by the delegates themselves. The topics selected for consideration – ‘fitting and comfort’, and ‘customer complaints’ – proved to be popular, as the sessions were fully booked, with a mix of retail and manufacturer company representatives attending on both mornings.

Another popular event in which SATRA shared was called ‘The Big Bang Northants’ – one of a series of scientific events for school children offering hands-on activities, interactive workshops, theatre shows and opportunities to talk to scientists and engineers from local and national companies in various locations around the UK. The Northamptonshire show, which was held at the world-famous Silverstone Grand Prix circuit, welcomed over 3,000 visitors who met representatives from a wide variety of exhibitors based in the region. The SATRA team reported that many young people were inquisitive about the organisation’s scientific activities.

Commemorative book published

A special publication was released in May 2019 to mark the SATRA’s centenary celebrations. In this A4-sized book, the reader was taken from the establishment of the original British Boot, Shoe and Allied Trades Research Association (the forerunner of SATRA) in 1919 through the Great Depression of the 1930s, the dark days of World War II, the ‘swinging sixties’ and the computerised eighties to the present day. It also investigated the growth in size and scientific capability which has led to SATRA becoming the world’s premier footwear research and testing organisation. The book was richly illustrated with over 100 historical and contemporary photographs and included among its 21 chapters, sections on ‘SATRA research and innovations’, ‘SATRA in Asia’, ‘Royal visits’, ‘SATRA’s Everest boot’ and ‘SATRA in the new millennium’. A copy of this new publication, entitled SATRA – 100 years 1919-2019 was despatched to each member company.

SATRA honoured by Royal Visitor

It was a very special day at SATRA’s headquarters when His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester, visited SATRA’s head office in Kettering on Thursday 23rd May to mark the organisation’s 100th anniversary. The Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire was also present, as were the High Sheriff of Northamptonshire, the Mayor of Kettering, the town’s Member of Parliament and a number of specially-invited SATRA members from around the world. 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.

Two days earlier, members of the SATRA China Advisory Board (CAB) had gathered at SATRA’s Kettering headquarters. This meeting was chaired by Austin Simmons, who also made a brief presentation on key events in SATRA’s history.

On the day of The Duke’s visit, during which Kettering was basking in sunshine, SATRA’s employees joined the CAB members and other guests in front of the main offices to hear Austin Simmons welcome His Royal Highness to SATRA. The Duke then spoke on the organisation’s impressive achievements during its century-long history, and unveiled the centenary sculpture which was located in front of the main building.

HRH The Duke of Gloucester (left) with SATRA chief executive Austin Simmons after the unveiling of the centenary sculpture

The Duke – first cousin to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – then toured a number of SATRA’s laboratories and saw a variety of tests being demonstrated. SATRA chief executive Austin Simmons and deputy chief executive John Hooker accompanied The Duke as he was shown SATRA’s Pedatron biomechanical walking simulator, as well as the eyewear, footwear and chemistry laboratories. In addition, The Duke visited SATRA’s research laboratory, the furniture and flooring department, the hemi-anechoic chamber (used for the assessment of hearing protection) and the footwear fitting room. The invited international guests and CAB members also enjoyed the same laboratory tour in small parties, after which they joined The Duke in signing a special visitor’s book to mark the occasion.

Following the completion of their tours, The Duke and the other guests travelled the short distance to the 17th century Boughton House stately home to the north east of Kettering for a celebratory lunch. Each guest was presented with a copy of SATRA’s commemorative centenary book to mark the occasion.

On the evening of Friday 24th, all members of SATRA staff and their partners were invited to a party to celebrate SATRA’s centenary. This was also held at Boughton House.

A new chief executive

SATRA chief executive Austin Simmons retired in June 2019 after 23 years’ service, with new CEO John Hooker taking up the reins on 1st July. John joined SATRA in September 2015 as executive director and was responsible for developing the organisation’s consumer products business, including PPE certification and testing, and the building of SATRA’s new Century House test equipment manufacturing facility. He began his career as an engineer before moving into operations and then commercial general management. John held board positions in a variety of manufacturing and service companies serving highly regulated industries, including the medical device and automotive sectors. He was appointed deputy chief executive of SATRA in April 2018.

New digital last assessment service

Footwear designers and manufacturers who use a last with improper proportions will create a poorly fitted shoe, affecting sales and, if 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’.

Commenting on this new service, SATRA chief executive John Hooker said: “SATRA’s new digital last assessment service speeds up the development process, allowing for several iterations of last design and refinement with the potential to fine tune existing popular lasts to target a wider market. Several household shoe brands are already using this service and we have had a very positive response. Ultimately, consistent fit and comfort help to increase customer loyalty, reduce online returns and maximise the potential for overall sales.”

SATRA opens test machine development hub

A report in SATRA Bulletin of September 2019 announced that SATRA had opened a new purpose-built technical resource – fittingly called ‘Century House’ – close to its head office in Kettering. This new facility was designed to bring together laboratory services operations and the design and manufacture of test equipment, this leading to a faster and more efficient feedback loop from the laboratory accreditation team in the field back to test equipment design personnel.

A new test machine development hub called ‘Century House’ was opened in 2019 close to the head office

The opening of Century House demonstrated SATRA’s continued commitment to the development and close working of the engineering and quality services teams. As well as extending the organisation’s portfolio of three hundred test machines, this large and modern facility was created to provide an opportunity to move further towards advanced manufacturing.

How can we help?

This series of articles, which began in the January 2019 issue of SATRA Bulletin, is being published to mark the milestone of SATRA’s centenary during 2019.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 26 of the November 2019 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

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