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Publication numberUS20020023283 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 09/819,888
Publication dateFeb 28, 2002
Filing dateMar 29, 2001
Priority dateMar 31, 2000
Publication number09819888, 819888, US 2002/0023283 A1, US 2002/023283 A1, US 20020023283 A1, US 20020023283A1, US 2002023283 A1, US 2002023283A1, US-A1-20020023283, US-A1-2002023283, US2002/0023283A1, US2002/023283A1, US20020023283 A1, US20020023283A1, US2002023283 A1, US2002023283A1
InventorsBruce Kania, James Colvin
Original AssigneeKania Bruce G., Colvin James M.
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Apparel worn on, in or under the water and a manufacturing method thereof
US 20020023283 A1
Abstract
An article of apparel designed to be worn by divers and swimmers which is formed by placing a prefabricated male mold inside a prefabricated female mode. Then a polymeric material is injected into a gap formed between the male mold placed inside the female mold. Also included is a built-in air bladder system to change a buoyancy of the diver and swimmer.
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Claims(17)
1. An article of apparel, comprising:
a pre-molded polymeric material formed by injecting the polymeric material into a gap formed between a male mold placed inside a female mold.
2. The apparel according to claim 1, further comprising:
fabric on at least one side of the apparel.
3. The apparel according to claim 1, wherein at least one of an ankle and wrist portion of the article of apparel is skin tight.
4. The apparel according to claim 1, further comprising a built-in airtight bladder.
5. The apparel according to claim 1, wherein the airtight bladder member includes at least one of 1) the polymeric material, and 2) fabric.
6. The apparel according to claim 1, wherein the fabric comprises a fabric material that precludes or minimizes bleed-through of the polymeric material.
7. The apparel according to claim 1, wherein the polymeric material comprises a material selected from the group of block copolymer gels.
8. The apparel according to claim 1, wherein the polymeric material includes at least one of SEBS, SEPS, and SEEPS.
9. The apparel according to claim 2, wherein the fabric is bulkable yarns with non-woven sheet substrates.
10. The apparel according to claim 2, further comprising:
polymer or metal coatings on a surface of the fabric.
11. The apparel according to claim 1, wherein the polymeric material includes a thermal-regulating additive.
12. The apparel according to claim 1, further comprising at least one pre-molded contour feature configured to receive an external device.
13. The apparel according to claim 12, wherein the external device includes at least one of a diving computer, an air tank, and a diving knife.
14. The apparel according to claim 12, wherein the pre-molded contour feature comprises a ring shape.
15. The apparel according to claim 1, further comprising:
stretch seams at predetermined locations on the article of apparel.
16. The apparel according to claim 1, wherein the article of apparel comprises a diving suit.
17. The apparel as shown in the figures, and described in the specification.
Description
CROSS REFERENCE TO A RELATED APPLICATION

[0001] This application is related to co-pending Regular U.S. application Ser. No. 09/473,139,filed on Dec. 28, 1999, and co-pending Provisional U.S. Application Ser. No. 60/183,599, filed on Feb. 18, 2000, both of which are incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0002] The present invention relates to an article of apparel designed and adapted to be worn by a human in, on or under the water, and preferably to a wet suit, diving suit, dry suit, waders, shorts, shirts, vests, hoods, socks, etc., made of or comprising a polymeric material such as a gelatinous elastomer composition, and a manufacturing method thereof. The present invention also relates to an antimicrobial silver-containing layer applied to the article of apparel.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0003] Apparel worn by swimmers, divers, and outdoorsmen, e.g., wet suits, dry suits, exposure suits, diving suits, vests, shorts, etc. generally provide the wearer with a layer of protection against cold temperatures. Such apparel also, however, affects the overall buoyancy of the wearer. Importantly, commonly available diving apparel undergoes significant changes in buoyancy with changes in depth/pressure, making it difficult for the wearer to maintain a depth other than specifically targeted for the appropriate weight belt. That is, for example with classical neoprene wet suits and dry suits commercially available, less and less weight is required as the diver descends more deeply into the water to maintain position, and the amount of excess weight on the diver can become significant when the diver proceeds to a depth greater than originally anticipated. For example, there is a reduction of approximately 40% in the amount of weight required to remain neutrally buoyant at a depth of 33 feet as compared with the surface. At 66 feet of depth, the amount of ballast must be further reduced by approximately 30%. Accordingly, there is rarely a time when their weight belt, etc. provides them with neutral buoyancy. Instead, most divers expend excess energy and air to keep at the desired depth. Becoming incapacitated in a negatively buoyant state is extremely dangerous, for obvious reasons. Rising too rapidly also can have serious consequences, such as the bends.

[0004] Another problem with conventional exposure suits is that foam cells contained within the insulating material collapse due to an increase in pressure as the diver descends. Thus, the diver's buoyancy is further affected. Also, as the foam cells in the insulating material collapse, the insulating value of the suit decreases. Further, the foam cells eventually take a permanent compression set and the suit eventually loses much of its buoyancy and insulation value.

[0005] To solve the problem of a diver's buoyancy changing at different depths due to the collapse of foam cells, Jonnes et al (U.S. Pat. No. 3,660,849) discloses a wet suit which includes an insulating layer formed from separated compartments or packets containing microbubbles. The microbubbles are pressure resistant and are used to reduce the amount of change in buoyancy.

[0006] However, a problem with the Jonnes et al invention is that the diver still experiences a positive buoyancy effect due to the wet suit. That is, the Jonnes et al wet suit is not neutrally buoyant. Thus, the diver is required to wear an excessive amount of weight to descend. As discussed above, the weight required for the diver to descend changes at different depths.

[0007] To offset the effect caused by the weight belt, external air systems are used to increase or decrease the buoyancy of the diver. However, this increases the amount of equipment the diver must wear, and further adds to the overall weight of the diver, while using up the limited air supply.

[0008] Another problem with the Jonnes et al invention is that it describes the use of block copolymers including polystyrene-polyisoprene-polystyrene and polystyrene-polybutadiene-polystyrene. Such compositions have fairly low strength, can degrade with exposure to oxygen or ozone or UV light, are excessively tacky, tend to suffer from excessive “bleeding” (migration of oil to the surface or onto adjacent materials), and are rather difficult to process.

[0009] In addition, conventional diving suits are generally manufactured by forming several patterns of an insulating material, such as a neoprene foam material and in the process mating a fabric layer onto the outside surfaces. The patterns are then bonded together, for example, by sewing or passing a hot knife between patterns so as to fuse the patterns together. Joints between packets are then covered with a flexible elastomeric tape, and then typically sewn.

[0010] A problem with this conventional manufacturing method is that the joints between bonded insulating packets tend to separate after continued use. Thus, the durability of the wet suit is reduced. Yet another problem with the conventional manufacturing method is that an excessive amount of steps is required, thus reducing production efficiency.

[0011] Another problem with conventional exposure suits is that elbow areas, knee areas, and other body joints do not properly stretch. That is, the conventional exposure suit generally contains a neoprene foam material with a fabric layer on the outside surfaces. The fabric layer covers the entire outer surface, thereby inhibiting free motion of body joints, such as knee joints or elbow joints. In addition, the neoprene foam material does not sufficiently stretch. Thus, the user is inhibited from freely moving when wearing a conventional exposure suit. Further, because conventional exposure suits do not stretch appropriately, exposure suits must be made in many different sizes to accommodate different body shapes.

[0012] Yet another problem with conventional exposure suits is they are generally not properly disinfected. That is, after a user wears a suit, he or she generally washes the suit off with water. However, this does not properly remove all of the bacterial associated with conventional exposure suits. In addition, many users rent diving suits, which have not been properly disinfected after a previous user has used the suit. For example, a user who is diving for extended periods of time may urinate within the diving suit. Clearly, this creates bacterial problems for the next user to wear the suit.

[0013] Still another problem with conventional exposure suits is the extra equipment needed for diving, etc., is not integrated within the diving suit. That is, any extra equipment is either carried by hand or attached with a separate belt.

[0014] Still yet another problem with conventional exposure suits is air becomes trapped in armpit areas, crotch areas, etc. This effects a buoyancy of a diver, for example.

[0015] Consequently, there is a need for providing a novel diving suit which is simple and inexpensive to manufacture, one which is neutrally or near neutrally buoyant, one which is durable and user-friendly, and one which includes a built-in air bladder system. There is also a need for a seamless diving suit and a manufacturing method thereof, such as a one piece diving suit, which does not contain joints that easily separate. It is also desirable that such a suit not alter in buoyancy or insulating value at common depths, such as 120 ft. or less.

[0016] Further, there is a need for an exposure suit which is effective against a broad spectrum of sepsis-causing bacteria and odor-causing bacteria, an exposure suit which includes integrated diving equipment, an exposure suit which includes stretch seams, and an exposure suit having a mechanism to release trapped air.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0017] Accordingly, one object of the present invention is to solve the aforementioned problems.

[0018] Another object of the present invention is to provide an article of apparel designed to be worn by a human above, in, on or under the water, referred to herein as a “diving suit” which is neutrally (or near neutrally) buoyant.

[0019] Yet another object of the present invention is to provide a diving suit having a built-in air bladder system; ideally one which allows a diver to alter attitude and depth.

[0020] Still another object of the present invention is to provide a seamless diving suit or a diving suit with minimal seams.

[0021] Yet another object of the present invention is to provide a simple, cost efficient method of manufacturing a neutrally buoyant, or near neutral buoyant seamless diving suit having a built-in air bladder system (buoyancy control device, BCD). This BCD can be positioned anywhere within the diving suit.

[0022] Another object of the present invention is to provide a diving suit which is effective against a broad spectrum of microorganisms, such as sepsis-causing bacteria and odor-causing bacteria.

[0023] Still another object of the present invention is to provide a diving suit which includes integrated attachments and/or pockets for integrating diving equipment into the diving suit.

[0024] Still another object of the present invention is to provide a diving suit which includes stretch seams at elbow joints, knee joints, etc, and a diving suit which appropriately stretches to custom-fit a variety of body types.

[0025] These and other objects are accomplished by providing a diving suit including a polymeric material. Also provided is a method of manufacturing the diving suit including the steps of placing a prefabricated male mold inside a prefabricated female mode, and injecting the polymeric material into a gap formed between the male mold placed inside the female mold. Alternately, polymeric material can be placed in the female mold before introduction of the male mold. The polymeric material may also include an antimicrobial composition which is effective against a broad spectrum of microorganisms. The diving suit may also include stretch seams at appropriate locations to provide flexibility to the user. Further, a silver layer may be applied to a skin-side of the diving suit to combat a broad spectrum of microorganisms.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0026] A more complete appreciation of the invention and many of the attendant advantages thereof will be readily obtained as the same becomes better understood by reference to the following detailed description when considered in connection with the accompanying drawings, wherein:

[0027]FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a male mold used to manufacture the diving suit according to the present invention;

[0028]FIG. 2 is a perspective view of a female mold used to manufacture the diving suit according to the present invention;

[0029]FIG. 3A is a vertical cross-section illustrating one example of applying inner and outer fabrics to the diving suit, as well as adjusting a size of the diving suit according to the present invention;

[0030]FIG. 3B is a vertical cross-section illustrating another example of applying inner and outer fabrics to the diving suit, as well as adjusting the size of the diving suit according to the present invention. Also illustrated is a method producing skin-tight ankle and wrist portions, for example, of the diving suit;

[0031]FIG. 4 illustrates an integral air bladder system of the diving suit according to the present invention;

[0032]FIG. 5 is a perspective view of the front of the diving suit according to the present invention;

[0033]FIG. 6 is a perspective view of the back of the diving suit according to the present invention;

[0034]FIG. 7A is a perspective view of a tank harness for the diving suit according to the present invention;

[0035]FIG. 7B is a perspective view of the tank harness shown in FIG. 7A attached to the diving suit according to the present invention;

[0036]FIG. 8 is a perspective view of a seamless cuff of the diving suit according to the present invention;

[0037]FIG. 9 is a perspective view of an attachment mechanism for attaching the tank harness shown in FIG. 7A to the diving suit;

[0038]FIG. 10 is a perspective view of padded and flexible areas of the diving suit according to the present invention;

[0039]FIG. 11 is a perspective view of surface mounted and embedded attachment mechanisms of the diving suit according to the present invention;

[0040]FIG. 12 is a perspective view of a seamless wrist portion of the diving suit according to the present invention;

[0041]FIG. 13 is a perspective view of an air-pocket release system for the diving suit according to the present invention;

[0042]FIG. 14 is a graph comparing a neoprene diving suit with a diving suit according to the present invention;

[0043] FIGS. 15A-15C are cross-sectional views of multilayer compositions which may be applied to the diving suit according to the present invention; and

[0044]FIGS. 16A and 16B show additional multilayer compositions which may be applied to the diving suit according to the present invention.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

[0045] Throughout the description of the present invention the term “diving suit” will be used. However, it is to be understood that the present invention relates to any type of article of apparel worn by swimmers and divers (e.g., wet suit, dry suit, etc.), fishermen (e.g., waders, overalls, socks, gloves, hoods, etc.), boaters, sailors, lifeguards, longshoremen, captains, mates, etc.

[0046] Referring now to the drawings, wherein like reference numerals designate identical or corresponding parts throughout the several views, FIG. 1 illustrates a male mold 202 which is to be inserted into a female mold 210 (shown in FIG. 2) to manufacture a diving suit according to the present invention. The male mold 202 may be a sand cast or fabricated aluminum mold, and is machined to dimensions of the female mold 210 minus a desired wet suit thickness. That is, a gap corresponding to the desired wet suit thickness is formed between the male mold 202 and female mold 210. Also illustrated is an arm portion 205 and a leg portion 207 of the male mold 202. A trimline 204, indicated by a dotted line, illustrates a portion of the diving suit to be trimmed and accommodated with a zipper, for example. Also illustrated is an inner fabric 206 covering a portion of the male mold 202.

[0047]FIG. 2 illustrates the female mold 210 used to produce the diving suit according to the present invention. The female mold 210 may be a sand cast or fabricated aluminum mold, similar in composition to the male mold 202. Preferably, the female mold 210 includes two portions 217 and 218 secured with rivets 219. The female mold 210 includes the two portions 217 and 218 to facilitate machining the female mold 210 to the desired thickness of the diving suit. Also illustrated is an arm portion 213 and leg portion 215 corresponding to the arm portion 205 and leg portion 207 of the male mold 202, as well as an outer fabric 216 covering an inner surface of the female mold 210.

[0048] Prior to inserting the male mold 202 into the female mold 210, the inner fabric 206 is pulled over the male mold 202, and the outer fabric 216 is placed inside the female mold 210. The inner fabric 206 and outer fabric 216 preferably include an elastomeric material which easily stretches. In addition, it should be noted that the diving suit may be manufactured without the inner fabric 206 and the outer fabric 216 or with only one of the inner fabric 206 and the outer fabric 216.

[0049] Then, the male mold 202 having the inner fabric 206 on an outer surface thereof is inserted into the female mold 210 having the outer fabric 216 on an inner surface thereof. Thus, a gap 230 (as shown in FIGS. 3A and 3B) is formed between the inner fabric 206 and the outer fabric 216. A polymeric material may then be injected into the gap 230 to form a seamless diving suit. In another embodiment the polymeric material can be added to the female mold and the male mold can be inserted.

[0050] Turning now to FIGS. 3A and 3B. FIG. 3A illustrates one example of applying the inner fabric 206 and the outer fabric 216 to the diving suit, as well as lengthening an arm portion 205, 213 and/or leg portion 207, 215 of the diving suit.

[0051] To apply the inner fabric 206, an inner fabric molding 222 is disposed within the arm portion 205 and/or leg portion 207 of the male mold 202, thus securing the inner fabric 206 to an outer surface of the male mold 202. To apply the outer fabric 216, an outer fabric molding 224 is disposed within the arm portion 213 and/or leg portion 215 of the female mold 212, thus securing the outer fabric 216 to an inner surface of the female mold 212. Therefore, using the inner fabric molding 222 and the outer fabric molding 224, the inner fabric 206 and the outer fabric 216 are secured, and form the gap 230. In addition, the inner fabric 206 and the outer fabric 216 are preferably applied prior to injecting the polymeric material. However, the inner fabric 206 and the outer fabric 216 may be applied to the diving suit after the molding process is completed (i.e. by glueing or sewing the fabrics to the molded polymeric material).

[0052] To lengthen the arm portion 205, 213 and/or leg portion 207, 215 of the diving suit, a length adjuster 220 may be inserted in the female mold 210. A thickness of the inner fabric molding 222 and the outer fabric molding 224 may also be used to adjust the arm portion 205, 213 and/or leg portion 207, 215 of the diving suit.

[0053]FIG. 3B illustrates another example of applying the inner fabric 206 and the outer fabric 216, as well as shortening a length of the arm portion 205, 213 and/or leg portion 207, 215 of the diving suit according to the present invention. Also illustrated is one example of forming skin tight wrist and ankle portions, for example, of the diving suit (i.e., forming a dry suit).

[0054] The inner fabric 206 and the outer fabric 216 in FIG. 3B are applied to the diving suit in a similar manner to that shown in FIG. 3A. That is, the inner fabric molding 222 is disposed within the arm portion 205 and/or leg portion 207 of the male mold 202, thus securing the inner fabric 206 to the male mold 202. To apply the outer fabric 216, an alternative outer fabric molding 232 (which is thicker than the outer fabric molding 224 shown in FIG. 3A) is also disposed within the arm portion 213 and/or leg portion 215 of the female mold 212. Because the alternative outer fabric molding 232 is thicker than the outer fabric molding 224, the length adjuster 220 does not need to be included. This results in shortening a length of the arm portion 205, 213 and/or leg portion 207, 215 of the diving suit.

[0055] Thus, using the appropriate combination and placement of the inner fabric molding 222, outer fabric molding 224, alternative outer fabric molding 232, limb adjuster 220, etc., the inner fabric 206 and the outer fabric 216 can be applied to the diving suit. Further, a length of the arm portion 205, 213 and/or leg portion 207, 215 is easily adjusted.

[0056]FIG. 3B also illustrates one example of producing skin-tight ankle and wrist portions of the diving suit. That is, the diving suit is sealed at the wrist and ankle portions, and thus a dry suit is produced. A neck portion, waist portion, etc. of the diving suit may also be sealed in a similar manner. This is accomplished by providing a thickened area. See e.g., area 234 in FIG. 3B. Therefore, after the polymeric material is injected, the diving suit will seal tightly against the diver's skin at the wrist and ankle portions. The polymeric materials useful herein mimic the skin and provide an effective water barrier.

[0057] As discussed above, FIGS. 3A and 3B illustrate a method of adjusting a length of the arm portions 205, 213 and/or leg portions 207, 215 of the diving suit. However, a chest portion, neck portion, waist portion, etc. (not shown) may also be adjusted using a similar method. Further, the size and shape of the components (e.g., inner fabric molding 222, etc.) are not limited to that shown in FIGS. 3A and 3B. In addition, the components used to apply the inner fabric 206 and the outer fabric 216 and to change the size of the diving suit should have dimensions (weight, thickness, etc.) set to achieve the desired result. An important feature of the invention is that the inner fabric 206 and the outer fabric 216 are easily applied, and that the size of the diving suit may be adjusted using the prefabricate male mold 202 and female mold 210. That is, according to the present invention, it is not necessary to use different molds to manufacture different sizes of diving suits.

[0058] In addition, the inner and outer fabrics may be applied only at predetermined areas of the wet suit. Thus, a stretch seam may be formed at predetermined locations on the wet suit. In more detail, the Polymeric material according to the present invention is extremely elastic and may stretch up to 2500% of its original shape. The inner and outer fabrics tend to reduce the stretchable feature of Polymeric. Therefore, by allowing certain locations of the wet suit to include inner and outer fabrics and other certain areas to not have inner and outer fabrics, stretch seams may be formed at the locations where the inner and outer fabrics do not exist.

[0059] For example, a neck portion of the diving suit may be configured to not have an inner or outer fabric. Thus, this neck portion will be extremely elastic and function as one size that “fits all.” Obviously, other portions of the diving suit may be configured to not have inner and outer fabric, such as the waist area of the diving suit. In addition, only one fabric (i.e., the inner or outer fabric) may be applied to certain areas of the wet suit. Further, an elastic inner and outer skin may also be used at certain areas to form stretch seams. The elastic skin is preferably elastic enough to not significantly reduce the stretchability of the polymer used. For example, a stretchable fabric may be one sold under the trademark LYCRA. Rubber based fabrics may also be used. Thus, by using a very stretchable fabric, a stretch seam may be formed and the polymer material is protected from UV light via the stretchable fabric.

[0060]FIG. 4 shows a built-in air bladder system 240 according to the present invention. The air bladder system 240 includes a valve 246 to regulate an ingress/egress of air to an airtight bladder member 256. The valve 246 may be threadedly engaged or glued, for example, into the diving suit after the molding process. The airtight bladder member 256 includes a bladder fabric 248 glued or sewn, for example, to the inner fabric 206 or outer fabric.

[0061] Further, fitting members 252 and 253 are disposed between the inner fabric 206 and outer fabric 216. The fitting members 252 and 253 may be sewn or glued, for example, to the inner fabric 206 and the outer fabric 216 prior to injecting the Polymeric material. As shown, an entry point 254 is formed in the diving suit between the fitting members 252 and 253 and is configured to receive the bladder valve 246.

[0062] A description of the bladder valve 246 used to regulate the ingress/egress of air to the airtight bladder member 256 will now be given. However, it is to be understood that other types of valves may be used in the diving suit according to the present invention.

[0063] The bladder valve 246 includes an inlet 242, an outlet 244 and an extending member 255. The inlet 242 receives air from an external air source to fill the airtight bladder member 256. Then, the airtight bladder member 256 would bulge the diving suit outwards and a buoyancy of the diver would increase. The extending member 255 of the bladder value 46 may contain threads so that the bladder valve 246 may be threadedly engaged into the diving suit. Alternatively, the extending member 255 may be glued into the diving suit. Air is released from the airtight bladder member 256 through the outlet 244 by pressing a release knob 250. The release knob 250 includes a first member 247, a spring 248 and a second member 249, as shown in FIG. 4. When the release knob 250 is in a non-activated state, air is maintained within the airtight bladder member 256.

[0064] The air bladder system 240 is an integral part of the diving suit according to the present invention. Thus, the diver is not required to carry excess equipment. However, the diving suit according to the present invention may be manufactured without the air bladder system 240. Further, the air bladder system may be positioned at any desired portion of the diving suit. For example, the air bladder system may be positioned at a side portion of the diver between the armpit and hip. Also, multiple airtight members may be used. For example, an airtight bladder member may be placed on both sides of the diver between the armpit and hip. Both airtight bladder members may be activated by a single valve, or each airtight bladder member may have its own valve. The bladder valve placement generally is restricted to placement of the airtight member. However, the valve may be a hand held mechanism connected to the airtight bladder member via appropriate tubing.

[0065] When the appropriate components (e.g., fabric moldings, length adjuster, etc.) are set in their desired positions and the male mold is inserted, the Polymeric material may be injected to form the diving suit. After the Polymeric material has cooled, the female mold is released from the male mold 202, or vice versa. Thus, the diving suit having the inner fabric 206 and the outer fabric 216 is produced. Then, excess material may be trimmed from the diving suit. That is, the diving suit may be trimmed along the trimline 204 to accommodate a zipper, for example.

[0066] The diving suit may also include a silver layer on a skin-surface thereof to combat bacteria from forming. This feature will be discussed in more detail later.

[0067] In addition to the manufacturing methods described above, the present invention diving suit can also be manufactured by sewing together flat sheets of polymeric material or by gluing such flat sheets together. In addition, the polymeric material in sheet or piece form can be joined to manufacture the invention diving suit by the traditional hot knife method, or a combination of these methods.

[0068] The polymeric material used in making the present invention diving suit can be any useful polymeric material known in the art. The polymeric material preferably is not foamed and preferably contains no microbubbles, hollow glass spheres, etc., and preferably is not a solid/polymer composite material in which the solid and polymer have different densities, buoyancies, etc. Rather, the polymeric material used herein is preferably a single polymeric composition which, itself, may comprise one or more polymers and one or more solvents, additives, etc. Preferably, the polymeric material is homogeneous at room temperature.

[0069] The polymeric materials useful herein include polyesters, polyethers, polycarbonates, polyamides, polyurethanes, silicones, rubbers (natural and synthetic), etc. The polymers described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,830,237 and 5,603,122 (both incorporated herein by reference), are useful herein. Particularly useful are those gels described in these two patents having the described Shore A durometer characteristic and/or a Shore 00 durometer of from 1-100.

[0070] A particularly preferred class of polymeric materials useful herein are polymeric gels formed of block copolymers and extending oils such as mineral oil, paraffin oil, etc. Such block copolymers include diblock, triblock, etc. copolymers and specifically include SEP, SEBS, SIS, SEEPS, SEPS, etc. Useful polymers and gels are also described in the following U.S. patents, all incorporated herein by reference: U.S. Pat Nos. 5,710,206, 5,655,947, 5,624,294, 5,633,286, 5,475,890. 5,508,334, 5,336,708, 5,334,646, 5,324,222, 5,262,468, 5,239,723, 5,153,254, 5,760,117, 4,618,213, 4,369,284, 5,441,560, 4,680,233, 4,942,270, 5,177,143, 4,716,183, 4,852,646, 5,149,736, 5,104,930, 5,442,004, 5,541,250, 5,618,882, and 5,313,019. Preferably, the gel comprises SEBS and oil. Examples of SEBS are S8004, S8006, and S8007 (all manufactured by Kuraray Co.). More preferably, the gel includes SEPS and oil. Examples of SEPS are S2002, S2005, S2006, S2007, S2043, S2063 and S2104 (all manufactured by Kuraray Co.). Most preferably, the gel includes SEEPS and oil. Examples of SEEPS are S4033, S4044, S4055, S4077, and S4099 (all manufactured by Kuraray Co.) The gel may include any combination of SEBS, SEPS, and SEEPS. All of these compositions can be made to be stronger, more stable, less tacky, exhibit better oil retention, and/or easier processing than the compositions described in the Jonnes patent. In addition, the gel and/or fabric can include a thermal-regulating additive for absorbing and/or releasing heat. An example of a thermal-regulating additive is microcapsules filled with phase change material (e.g., paraffinic hydrocarbons) or plastic crystals with appropriate thermal storage properties, such as one sold under the trademark THERMASORB from Frisby Technologies. Such thermal-regulating additives can cool the body when it is hot and heat the body when it is cold.

[0071] The mineral oil may be present in from 0-95% by weight based on total gel weight, more preferably 70-90% by weight, but also including all of any positive amount including 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, 85, and 90% by weight and all values and ranges in between all these listed values. The gel preferably has a durometer (Shore A) of approximately 0-20 and preferably a durometer that matches or approximates (within about 100%) that of human skin. Preferably, the oil is present on an equal weight basis, or in a weight ratio of 1/4, with regard to the amount of polymeric material present. More preferably, the gel durometer is from 1-100 Shore 00, most preferably 5-35. The polymeric material present is preferably a styrene isoprene/butadiene block copolymer or a styrene-ethylene/butadiene-styrene block copolymer. Examples of suitable polymeric materials include C-Flex 1970-W5 (R70-339-000), C-Flex 1960-W5 (both manufactured by Consolidated Polymer Technologies, Largo, Fla., U.S.A.), Kraton G1654 (manufactured by Shell Chemical Co.), Septon 4033, 4044, 4055, 4077, and 4099 (manufactured by Kuraray), DYNAFLEX G6703, G6708, G6713 and G2706 (manufactured by GLS Corp.). For the C-Flex materials a particularly preferred ratio is 1 part oil per 2 parts C-Flex material.

[0072] Preferred ratios of polymer to mineral oil are about 1/1-4/1 using C-Flex 1970-W5 or 1960-W5, one part Kraton G1654: 2.75 parts mineral oil, and 14 parts Kraton G1654: 15 parts C-Flex R70-306 (or R70-190 or R70-251 or any mixture thereof): 40 parts mineral oil. The C-Flex R70-339-000, R70-306, -190 and -251 materials are also preferred herein and are products of Consolidated Polymer Technologies. They are blends of S-EB-S block copolymer or SIB block copolymer with mineral oil. 10 parts Kraton G1654 and 11 parts C-Flex R70-306 and 27 parts Duoprime 70 oil is also preferred. A highly preferred gel is 62.5% C-Flex 1970-W5, and 37.5% Carnation mineral oil. 55-65% C-Flex 1970-W5 and 45-35% oil is also preferred. Also preferred is a composition of 26-65 wt % styrene-isoprene/butadiene block copolymer and 35-74% by weight mineral oil. Here, 27, 28, 29, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50 and 55 wt % SIB can be used with oil ranging from 73, 72, 71, 70, 65, 60, 55, 50 and 45 wt %. All %'s are percent by weight unless otherwise indicated.

[0073] The preferred polymers useful herein and listed above (C-Flex, Kraton, Septon, and DNYAFLEX materials), in addition to being styrene-isoprene/butadiene or styreneethylene/butadiene-styrene block copolymers (mixed with mineral oil in the case of at least the C-Flex 1970-W5, R70-339-000, R70-306, -190 and -251 materials) also include styrene/butadiene-styrene and any thermoplastic elastomer having the Shore A and/or Shore 00 characteristics listed above and capable of being blended with mineral oil. Mixtures of all mentioned polymers may be used. The mineral oil used herein is preferably purified mineral oil and is preferably USP grade. Carnation mineral oil is preferred. The optimum ratios of polymer to oil are best determined by a modest degree of experimentation in view of the particular selection of these materials and the intended application.

[0074] The material used to make the diving suit may also be urethane or any other material that is neutrally buoyant (or near neutrally buoyant).

[0075] In a preferred embodiment the polymeric material of the invention is coated on one or both sides thereof with fabric, such as spandex, nylon, etc. It is preferred that the fabric is a stretch fabric so that an intimate fit can be achieved with standard sized suits. Fabrics described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,830,237 and 5,603,122 are useful herein, and both of these patents are incorporated by reference. Preferred fabrics have a weave, etc. that does not allow, or minimizes bleed-through of the polymeric material during manufacture. Also preferred fabrics have good bond strength with the gel and have good abrasion resistance. One example of a fabric which has appropriate stretch, bleed-through, bond strength, and abrasion resistance is “fiber-on-end fabrics” (bulkable yarns with non-woven sheet substrates), such as one sold under the trademark WEARFORCE from Xymid, LLC. Such coating can be accomplished by lining the molds described in the Figures with fabric prior to addition of polymeric material, or by pouring polymeric material on fabric and then assembling the invention diving suit, for example. The polymeric material is preferably liquid (pourable) due to temperature, state of crosslinking etc. In addition, the invention suit can be assembled from the “flat sheet” manufactured and sold by the Ohio Willow Wood Company.

[0076] Polymer or metal coatings can be used to improve properties of apparel related to insulation, friction, cleanability, bonding, suspension, water resistance, wear, etc. Examples of these coatings includes ones sold under the trademarks SUPER COMPOSITE SKIN and TITANIUM ALPHA provided by Yamamoto Corporation and PMC from Smooth-On. Gloves, boots, waders, etc. that are made from the invention material can have a non-slip material incorporated on any surface that may benefit from additional friction. For example, gum rubber could be directly incorporated into the bottom surface of boots to improve traction. The invention diving suit preferably provides a human wearer with comfort and fit, and is neutrally buoyant or near neutrally buoyant. The neutral buoyancy of a material according to the invention can be determined by immersing the material in water and determining its rise or fall. In the most preferred embodiment herein the invention diving suit is neutrally buoyant or near neutrally buoyant at the surface, at a depth of 33 feet, and at a depth of 66 feet. Neutral buoyancy occurs when the weight of the diving suit equals the weight of an equal volume (to the suit) of water. Near neutral buoyancy is within 30, 25, 20, 15, 10, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 or less than 1% of this weight, including all numbers and ranges between these numbers. Another preferred buoyancy for the invention diving suit is that which is equal to human buoyancy.

[0077] In another preferred embodiment, the present invention diving suit has a particular density (weight/area) that provides neutral or near neutral buoyancy. This density may range from 1-48 oz. per 9 square inches of diving suit material, including 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 5, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39,40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48 oz. including all numbers between these numbers, all subranges between these numbers, and all ranges between these ranges. It is within the skill of the ordinary artisan to determine the proper weight, density, etc. of the diving suit material to provide human, neutral or near neutral buoyancy in view of the present disclosure.

[0078] In yet another preferred embodiment of the present invention, the diving suit includes specially molded contour features. For example, the diving suit may be molded to include a compartment that lies between the fabric layers of the diving suit and which is configured to form fit around, for instance, a diving computer, covering all but the readout display while encasing and protecting the computer. Similar contour features may accommodate an air tank attachment and stabilize the air tank directly into the diving suit. Likewise, the diving suit may be molded to include appropriate diving clips and D-rings, and a compartment to hold a knife, etc. For example, a contoured ring (i.e., molded ring) with built in snap fasteners on a wrist portion of the diving suit may be included in the diving suit to allow a standardized dive computer to be attached to the diving suit. The diving suit of the present invention may also be molded to be thicker on a side corresponding with an appropriate fabric stretch direction to achieve limited water ingress at apertures of the diving suit.

[0079] In still another preferred embodiment of the present invention, the diving suit may include an antimicrobial composition (e.g., silver layer) on a skin surface thereof. This feature will be discussed in more detail later with reference to FIGS. 15-16. Turning now to FIGS. 5-14.

[0080]FIG. 5 is a front perspective view of the diving suit according to the present invention. As shown, the diving suit 2 includes a high stretch form-fit collar 4, padded shoulder areas 6, shoulder stretch seams 8, a kangaroo front pocket 10, auxiliary hard mounts 12, an internal form-fitting belt 14, and integral pockets 16. The diving suit 2 also includes a buoyancy control (BC) hook-up 18, an automatic buoyancy control (BC) release valve 20, a chest buoyancy control (BC) bladder 22, an LED chest light 24, a high power, low power and buoyancy control (BC) emergency fill lines 26, a thin wrinkle-free elbow joint area 28, a dive computer 30, an emergency buoyancy control (BC) fill valve 32, a buoyancy control (BC) fill and purge control pad 34, a thigh stretch seam 36, a segmented knee guard 38, a knee stretch seam 40, and an anklet sealed cuff 42.

[0081] The high stretch form-fit collar 4 shown in FIG. 5 does not have fabric material on the outer or inner surfaces thereof. Thus, because the polymeric material is super-flexible, the high stretch form-fit collar 4 custom fits any user. That is, a single collar size will “fit all” users. Alternatively, the collar 4 may include a very stretchable fabric on the outer and/or inner surfaces, such as LYCRA.

[0082] The shoulder pads 6 pad, for example, an air tank harness attached to the diving suit. The shoulder pads 6 may be formed of additional polymeric material or may be filled with water. That is, the material used to provide the shoulder pads 6 are preferably neutrally buoyant. Alternatively, the shoulder pads may be filled with air from the buoyancy control system according to the present invention. That is, the shoulder pads 6 may function similar to the chest BC bladder 22.

[0083] The shoulder stretch seams 8, thin wrinkle-free joint area 28, thigh stretch seam 36, and knee stretch seam 48 are similar to the high-stretch form-fit collar 4. That is, these additional high-stretch areas are formed to not include fabric on the surfaces thereof, so that they have a superb flexibility in the respective areas (e.g., shoulder area, knee area, etc.). Alternatively, a very stretchable fabric may be included in these areas. The stretchable fabric should be sufficiently stretchable such that the flexible areas provide a custom fit and do not significantly inhibit the super flexibility characteristics of the polymer material.

[0084] The kangaroo front pocket 10 is integrally formed in the diving suit and may be used to store, for example, diving equipment. The pocket 10 may be formed between two outer fabrics or between a single layer of fabric and the polymeric material, for example.

[0085] The auxiliary hard mounts 12 are also integrally formed into the diving suit and are used to attach, for example, a diving knife or other necessary diving equipment. For example, a diving knife may have a female socket connectable to a male auxiliary hard mount 12 by, for example, a ratchet mechanism in which the diving knife may be ratcheted onto the auxiliary hard mount 12. Thus, the user may easily attach/detach the diving knife to the auxiliary hard mount 12, which is integrally formed into the diving suit. The auxiliary hard mount 12 may be formed as part of the internal form-fitting belt 14. That is, to support the attachment of diving equipment to the auxiliary hard mount 12, a rigid structure (such as the internal form-fitting belt) is required. Other mechanisms may be used so that the auxiliary hard mount 12 is securely mounted to the diving suit 2 so as to support tools attached thereto. The internal form-fitting belt 14 is also used to secure a tank harness (this feature will be described in more detail later).

[0086] The pockets 16 are also integrally formed into the diving suit and may be used to store appropriate diving equipment, etc. The pockets 16 may be formed in a similar fashion as the kangaroo front pocket 10 (i.e., between two layers of fabrics, etc.). The BC hook-up 18 is used to attach an air hose from an air tank. That is, the air hose runs from the air tank to the BC hook-up 18. The chest BC bladder 22 is filled with air from the air tank when the BC fill and purge control pad 34 is activated. That is, the BC control pad 34 includes a fill button and a purge button. If the diver activates the fill button, the BC bladder 22 is filled with air from the tank. If the diver presses the purge button, air in the chest bladder 22 is released. Thus, the user may change his or her buoyancy using the integral buoyancy control system.

[0087] The air passages from the BC hook-up 18 may be formed using air hoses, layers of fabric, or other appropriate methods so that air is transferred from the air tank to the chest BC bladder 22. Further, the BC control pad 34, fill and purge air into and out of the chest BC bladder 22 via a mechanical and/or hydraulic mechanism to the transfer air from the air tank to the chest BC bladder 22 or from the chest BC bladder 22 to the outside.

[0088] The LED chest light 24 is also integrally formed in the diving suit and provides illumination for diving expeditions, for example. This is particularly advantageous because the diver does not require a hand-held diving light. The chest light 24 may be integrally formed in between an outer fabric in the polymeric material, for example. The BC emergency fill line 26 is used to fill the chest BC bladder 22, in an emergency or when the diver does not have the air tank on. This can be accomplished by the diver blowing air into the BC fill valve 32, which enters the chest BC bladder 22 via the BC emergency fill line 26. The HP, LP and BC lines 26 are three separate lines. The HP line is used to determine the high pressure of the air tank and display this value on the dive computer 2. The LP line is used for the other equipment, such as the line in which the diver breathes from. The BC emergency fill line is used to fill the chest BC bladder 22 as discussed above. The dive computer 30 may also be integrally formed in the diving suit and thus the user does not need to carry this computer as a separate device.

[0089] The segmented knee guard 38 provides protection to the knee without restricting the superb flexibility characteristic of the knee stretch seam 40. The anklet seal cuff 42 form fits the user so that water does not enter into the wet suit. That is, the sealed cuff is formed to function as a dry suit (as previously discussed with reference to FIG. 3B). Thus, water is prevented from entering the anklet portion (and neck, wrist portions, etc.).

[0090]FIG. 6 is a perspective view showing a back portion of the diving suit 2 according to the present invention. As shown, the diving suit 2 includes a zipper 44, high stretch elbow guards 46, the BC control pad 34, wrinkle-free knee joint area 48, back BC bladder 50, tank harness mount 52, sealed wrist cuffs 54 and calf stretch seam 56.

[0091] The zipper 44 is used to zip the diving suit together. The zipper 44 may also be integrally molded into the diving suit or glued, sewn, etc. Other closing mechanisms may be used, such as a ziplock, shoestring, etc. The high stretch elbow guard 46 may include a padded area having a thicker polymeric material so as to provide padding for the elbows and may also be formed so as not to have fabric on either surface thereof. Thus, the user is provided with sufficient padding, while at the same time having an extremely flexible elbow area. The elbow guard 46 may also include stretchable fabric on either surface thereof.

[0092] The BC control pad 34 is used to control the air intake/outtake of the back BC bladder 50 and the chest BC bladder 22 as discussed above. In addition, the tank harness 52 is integrally molded into the diving suit 2 and is used to securely fasten an air tank. This feature is discussed in more detail later. The sealed wrist cuff 54 is similar the sealed anklet cuff 42 shown in FIG. 5 and will also be discussed in more detail later. The calf stretch seam 56 is similar to the thigh stretch seam 36 shown in FIG. 5 and provides the diver with a custom fit. For example, the calf stretch seam 56 stretches for a diver with large calves and reduces in size for a user with smaller calves. Thus, a single diving suit 2 may comfortably custom fit either diver.

[0093] The thin wrinkle-free knee area 48, as well as the wrinkle-free elbow area 28 are similar to the stretch seams 36 and 56, but include a larger area in which the polymeric material does not have a fabric on a surface thereof (or has a very stretchable fabric) so that these areas are wrinkle-free. That is, the diver may easily bend, for example, his or her elbow without the diving suit crimping or wrinkling (and thereby inhibiting the free movement of the divers's elbow, etc.)

[0094]FIG. 7A is a perspective view of a tank harness 57 for the diving suit according to the present invention. As shown, the tank harness 57 includes a donning handle 58 for carrying/storing the air tank, a donning webbing 60, a harness release mechanism 62, a harness 64, a tank strap 66, and a front clip 68. The donning webbing 60 merges with the tank strap 66 at a front side of the diving suit and attaches to the harness 64 at a back side thereof. The donning webbing 60 provides additional support for the tank harness 57. The harness release mechanism 62 is used to remove the air tank and tank harness 57. That is, the diver may simply pull on the harness release 62 to remove the air tank and tank harness. The harness 64 is preferably a plastic material (neutrally buoyant) and is situated on the user as shown in FIG. 7B, for example. The tank strap 66 includes the front clip 68 and attaches to the internal belt 14 shown in FIG. 5. Thus, with the tank harness 57 according to the present invention, which is lightweight and flexible, the user may easily attach and detach the air tank. FIG. 7B illustrates the tank harness 57 attached to a diver wearing the diving suit 2.

[0095]FIG. 8 is a perspective view of a seamless cuff of the diving suit according to the present invention, such as the anklet cuff 42 shown in FIG. 5 or the wrist cuff 54 shown in FIG. 6. As shown, the sealed cuffs 42, 54 include a variable thickness core 72 including the polymeric material. The anklet or wrist portion includes a seamless portion 70 (i.e., there are no seams), and the variable thickness core 72. Also shown is an outer fabric 76 and an inner fabric 78. However, the sealed cuff 42, 54 does not include the inner fabric 78. Thus, the sealed cuff may customly fit any user. Alternatively, a fabric which is very stretchable may also be used in the sealed cuff 42, 54. Further, the sealed cuffs 42, 54 prevent water from entering the diving suit.

[0096]FIG. 9 is a perspective view of an attachment mechanism for attaching the tank harness 57 shown in FIG. 7A to the diving suit. As shown, the harness 64 includes a stainless steel spring loaded clip 84 which spring loads to an external button 88. The external button 88 is embedded into the belt 14. FIG. 9 also illustrates the spring loaded clip 84 and external button 90 as an exploded view. Thus, the user may easily attach and detach the harness 64 to the belt 14.

[0097]FIG. 10 is a perspective view of the shoulder pads 6 and shoulder stretch seams 8, as well as a cross-sectional view of the same. The shoulder pad 6 includes a multi-thickness molding 98 including a core polymeric material 110. Also shown are the shoulder stretch seams 8, which include the core polymeric material without fabrics on surfaces thereof. However, as shown, areas outside the shoulder stretch seams 8 include an outer fabric 106. Also shown is an inner fabric stretch area 114 corresponding to the stretch seams 8 and which does not include an inner fabric. Thus, a maximum elongation area occurs at the stretch seams 8, and a medium elongation area occurs outside the stretch area 114. The maximum elongation at the shoulder stretch seam 8 may be elongated up to 900%, for example. A low elongation area 104 comprises the core material with fabric on both sides thereof.

[0098]FIG. 11 is a perspective view of the external button 88 used for attaching the harness 64 to the belt 14. The belt 14 includes polymeric material 116, a reinforcement portion 118, a urethane embedded attachment 120, and webbing 122. The external button 88 may be surface mounted, such as the surface mounted attachment button 124, or embedded such as the embedded attachment button 126. The embedded attachment button 126 includes a layer of urethane or other appropriate material covering the embedded flange portion 90 (see FIG. 9) of the external button 88. The webbing 122 provides additional support to the external button 88. That is, because the air tank is heavy, the harness will tend to pull on the external button 88. Therefore, the webbing 122 may be used to further secure the external button 88 to the belt 14.

[0099]FIG. 12 is a perspective view of a seamless wrist portion of the diving suit according to the present invention. As shown, the wrist portion includes a seamless portion 130 without an outer fabric and without a seam. Thus, the wrist portion may be easily moveable and will snugly fit a variety of different wrist sizes. Also shown is a half finger style hand portion 132 of the diving suit which may include optional webbing 134. The seamless wrist portion is produced according to the method of the present invention (as previously discussed).

[0100]FIG. 13 is a perspective view of an air-pocket release system for the diving suit according to the present invention. As shown, air pockets 140 develop in areas such as the armpit and crotch of the diver. This changes the buoyancy of the diver. Accordingly, the present invention provides a mechanism for releasing these air pockets. The air-pocket release system includes access/vent tubes 142 which are linked to the air pockets 140. The diver may release the air within the air pockets 140 by activating a built-in pump with a one way valve 144 which is contained in the belt 14. That is, the user may turn a handle of the built-in pump 144 to evacuate air trapped in the air pockets 140. Also shown are dry suit aperture closures 146. These are similar to the sealed cuff wrist and anklet portions previously described. The access tubes 142 may be flexible and collapsible. Other air passages may also be used (such as air passages between two layers of fabric). The air passages may also be on the external side of the suit or be between the suit and diver's skin.

[0101]FIG. 14 illustrates a comparison between a neoprene diving suit with a diving suit according to the present invention. In more detail, FIG. 14 compares a 6 mil neoprene diving suit having fabric on both sides, a 4 mil neoprene diving suit having no fabric, and a 4 mil thermoplastic diving suit according to the present invention having fabric on one side. As shown, the buoyancy of a diver wearing a 6 mil neoprene and 4 mil neoprene diving suit significantly changes based on the depth dived. On the contrary, the 4 mil thermoplastic diving suit according to the present invention has a neutral buoyancy regardless of the depth the individual is diving.

[0102] Buoyancy is defined as the lifting force exerted on any object when immersed in a liquid substance. The sum total of the buoyant force is equal to the weight of the liquid displaced by the volume of the object. If the buoyant force is greater than the immersion weight of the object, the object is said to be “positively buoyant” (i.e., it will float). For the contrary condition, when the buoyant force is less than the immersion weight, the object will be “negatively buoyant” (i.e., it will sink). For the condition where both forces are equal the object is said to be at a “neutral” state.

[0103] For the enclosed buoyancy tests shown in FIG. 14, the upward buoyant force is measured in the units of grams with what is basically an inverted scale. That is, an entire assembly, including a scale, is enclosed in a sealed pressure vessel. The pressure vessel is then filled with water and when compressed air is added into the vessel an “equivalent depth” is attained. As described above, the upward buoyant force is directly related to the amount of water displaced by the material sample. As the hydrostatic pressure is increased, the material sample will compress in all axes. As this compression occurs, the amount of water displaced will decrease and therefore the sample will become less buoyant resulting in less upward force and thus a decreased reading.

[0104] Turning now to a feature of the present invention in which a silver bacteria fighting layer is applied to an inside of the diving suit. Note, the inner fabric may be coated with this composition or the polymeric material may itself be coated. Further, the silver may be incorporated into the polymer.

[0105] Silver is effective against a broad spectrum of microorganisms, including but not limited to sepsis-causing bacteria and odor-causing bacteria. (For purposes of this detailed description, a metal with “antimicrobial,” “bactericidal” and/or “bacteristatic” properties is broadly defined as a metal that is active against at least one pathogenic agent, including but not limited to bacteria, protozoa, fungi, rickettsiae, and viruses. Bactericidal agents kill organisms, whereas bacteristatic agents prevent their growth and multiplication.) The silver is preferably in a mechanically stable form that remains bound to the polymeric material when dry, but that releases useful amounts of silver ions when moistened by a liquid such as water, perspiration, and so forth. Thus, at least a portion of the silver contained is eventually released into the surrounding areas. The silver itself is nontoxic, nonhazardous, substantially nonallergenic and nonirritating, and inert until activated by contact with a suitable liquid (water, perspiration, etc.).

[0106] In addition, the diving suit may include layers of additional useful materials, including but not limited to moisture-impermeable layers, moisture-absorbing layers, inserts for providing heat or cooling, and additional layers of the polymeric material or the silver-containing layer. The composition can be made by any convenient techniques known in the art, of readily available materials.

[0107] The antimicrobial composition and the same applied to the diving suit of the present invention will now be described with reference to FIGS. 14A-14C and 15A-15B.

[0108]FIG. 14A is a cross-sectional view of a multilayer composition 310, including a polymeric gel composition 76 (i.e., the core material of the diving suit) and a silver-containing layer 314. The polymeric gel composition 76 comprises a block copolymer and, optionally, mineral oil as previously described. The silver layer 314 may be added by coating the polymeric gel composition with silver; alternatively, a silver-containing fabric 316 such as silver nylon material may be attached to the polymeric gel composition (FIG. 14B).

[0109] One or both sides of layer 76 may be coated with silver by any convenient technique, including but not limited to vapor coating, aerosolized deposition, sputter coating, chemical deposition, plating, or other techniques known in the art. Alternatively, the silver may be carried by a layer 316 that incorporates or is coated with useful amounts of silver. For example, layer 316 may comprise a woven, knitted, or nonwoven silver-plated fabric. Alternatively, the fabric may be made of a combination of silver-coated (or silver-impregnated) and plain fibers. Suitable materials for layer 316 include silver-impregnated warp knit nylon fabric, silver-impregnated nylon pile fabric, and other fabrics made by Omnishield, Inc., Swift, Inc., Sauquoit Industries, and other manufacturers. Other useful fabrics include polyesters, polyethylenes, rayons, acrylics, and combinations thereof that contain useful amounts of silver.

[0110] In one preferred embodiment of the present invention, layer 316 contains at least approximately 2 wt. % silver, more preferably at least approximately 5-10 wt. % silver. However, it should be noted that silver concentrations outside this range may also be useful for some applications. Silver (or some other metal with medically useful properties) is added to the fabric substrate of layer 316 by vapor coating, aerosolized deposition, sputter coating, chemical deposition, plating, or other suitable technique. Individual fibers can be coated and then worked (woven, knitted, crocheted, felted, blown, etc.) into a fabric; alternatively, silver may be added to the finished fabric. Useful fabrics may contain up to 100% silver-coated fibers. The silver of layers 314, 316 is in a highly purified form, that is, at least approximately 99.9% pure and preferably at least approximately 99.99% pure. The metal content of layers 314, 316 as well as the thickness and uniformity of the metal coating, may vary broadly depending on the intended application. However, it should be understood that the materials for layers 314, 316 are selected with a view to providing the needed amounts of free silver to the skin. Other metals that exhibit antibacterial and/or antifungal properties may also be useful for the practice of the present invention, including but not limited to gold, copper, aluminum, zinc, and combinations and alloys thereof.

[0111] Layers 314, 316 not only contain a sufficiently high content of silver (or other useful metal) to provide useful amounts of silver ions for the intended application, but preferably have an approximately uniform distribution of silver. Non-uniform distributions may result in non-uniform treatment, since the amount of silver supplied to different areas of the target site may differ. The thickness of the silver coating may vary broadly. Useful amounts of silver may be achieved with coatings no greater than 1 or 2 micrometers thick.

[0112] The silver in layers 314, 316 is preferably in a form that, when composition 310 is placed in contact with body tissues and moistened by water or sweat between the skin of the user and the diving suit, it releases silver ions by the passive dissolution of silver in an ionic form from the metallic silver surface in a process known as oligodynamic action. Thus, over a period of time, at least a portion of the available silver migrates to the immediately-adjacent tissues where it has useful antimicrobial and antifungal effects.

[0113] While not wishing to be bound by theory, it is believed that metallized (i.e., metal-containing, metal-coated, metal-plated) materials wherein the metal atoms are firmly attached or bound to a fabric substrate when dry, but are at least somewhat releasable in ionic form when wetted with a suitable liquid, are especially suitable for the practice of the present invention. For example, layers 314, 316 may contain silver in the form of small crystals which tend to release free silver ions when wetted by saline, water, etc. Crystalline silver deposits of this type are believed to have a greater effective surface area than conventional silver-plated coatings, and therefore the capability of releasing more silver ions per unit coating weight, in shorter periods of time. However, other types of silver-containing materials may also be useful.

[0114] Layer 316 may be attached to the polymeric gel composition layer 76 by any convenient means, including but not limited to heat/pressure bonding, crimping, embossing, sonic welding, needle punching and biocompatible adhesives. Alternatively, hook-and-loop or groove-and-rib type closures may be useful, particularly for applications where a removable layer 316 is desired. These types of closures are described in co-pending applications Ser. No. 09/431,991, filed Nov. 3, 1999, and Ser. No. 09/496,766, filed Feb. 3, 2000, the disclosures of which are incorporated herein by reference.

[0115] Composition 310 may also include additional layers. For example, composition 310 may have an outer layer of gas-permeable, moisture-impermeable material (GORETEX or the like), the inner or outer fabrics, a layer of moisture-absorbing material interposed between layers 312 and 316, or a layer 318 of hook-and-loop fabric such as VELCRO between layers 76 and 316 (FIG. 15C). Alternatively, composition 310 may have a silver-containing layer such as layer 316 interposed between two layers 76, or comprise a layer 12 that itself contains silver.

[0116] Silver ions released by layers such as above-described layers 314 and 316 have been demonstrated to be effective against, for example, odor-causing bacteria (including antibiotic-resistant strains, Gram-positive strains, and Gram-negative strains), as described in applications Ser. Nos. 09/431,991 and 09/496,766.

[0117] If desired, the composition 310 may include one or more pockets 322 for holding removable heated or cooled inserts 324 as shown in FIG. 16A. Alternatively, the composition 310 may have a plurality of permanent inserts 332 (FIG. 16B). Inserts 324 and 332 are preferably made of a material with a high heat capacity, thus, the inserts tend to retain their temperature when heated or cooled and only slowly return to ambient temperature.

[0118] Composition 310 is inert until the silver of layer 314 or 316 is wetted by any of a variety of agents: water, sweat, etc. Then, at least some free silver ions are released from layers 314 and 316 and migrate from composition 310 into the surrounding region.

[0119] The silver layer 314, 316 may be applied to the inner surface of the entire wet suit, or just to bacteria prone areas such as a crotch area, armpit area, etc.

[0120] Obviously, numerous modifications and variations of the present invention are possible in light of the above teachings. It is therefore to be understood that within the scope of the appended claims, the invention may be practiced otherwise than as specifically described herein.

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WO2012082892A2 *Dec 14, 2011Jun 21, 2012Aqua Lung America, Inc.Improved watersuit for enhanced performance in the water
Classifications
U.S. Classification2/2.15, 2/2.16
International ClassificationA41D13/012, B63C11/04
Cooperative ClassificationA41D13/0125, B63C11/04
European ClassificationB63C11/04, A41D13/012B