The OPTIM™ suit.

OPTIM™ Fine and OPTIM™ Max

Australian merino wool has been transformed by stretching and setting the fibres to create new fibres.

  • 11 September 2008 | Updated 14 October 2011

A research team at CSIRO challenged the conservative view of wool and applied innovative technologies to create two new kinds of fibres - OPTIM™ Fine and OPTIM™ Max.

OPTIM™ technology radically changes the wool fibre structure and properties.

The re-engineered fibres are softer, stronger and lighter than the untreated wool and provide an important basis for wool product innovation.

What CSIRO did

The research team developed an OPTIM™ Fine manufacturing process, which stretches 19 micron wool fibres between 40-50 per cent, making, on average fibres 3 to 3.5 micrometers finer. The reduced micron fibre is then chemically set in this finer, softer form.

OPTIM™ technology radically changes the wool fibre structure and properties.

OPTIM™ Fine has increased length and strength, as well as a silk-like lustre, but retains many of the desirable properties of fine wools, such as drape, handle, moisture absorbency and comfort.

In the production of OPTIM™ Max fibres, wool sliver is stretched to give an average fibre extension of 20 - 30 per cent, which is temporarily set.

The stretched fibres are then blended with normal wool and spun into yarn. During the finishing of the yarn, it is immersed in hot water causing the OPTIM™ Max fibres to retract to their original length. This causes the normal wool fibres to buckle and distort giving a soft, lightweight bulky yarn.

The outcomes

OPTIM™ Fine fibres make light-weight wool-based yarns possible in today’s spinning environment, while the bending properties of fine fibres provide the required softness. Not only is the linear density of fabric fibres reduced, but the cross-sectional profile and the surface lustre of the fibres is different as well.

Synchrotron analysis by x-ray diffraction confirmed that the structure of the OPTIM™ Fine fibre was silk-like after treatment.

The OPTIM™ Max process increases the yarn’s total volume by 30-40 per cent to create pure wool bulky fibre that is less dense for the manufacture of lightweight garments, particularly knitwear.

CSIRO measured heat transfer values indicate that the bulky wool product has better insulating properties compared to unmodified wool. This is associated with the increased volume of air trapped in the bulky yarn assembly.

With the 20 per cent lighter product from the bulky wool yarn providing the same cover, the warmth to weight analysis indicate garments would be significantly more comfortable than the conventional wool product.

Our partners

The technology, invented by Dr David Phillips at CSIRO Textile and Fibre Technology (now a program within CSIRO Materials Science & Engineering) was developed with joint funding from the Australian woolgrower through AWRAP.

The process was licensed to Woolmark who commercialised the sale of OPTIM™ machines globally. Since the amalgamation of Australian Wool Innovation Ltd (AWI) and Woolmark in 2007, AWI has taken over the further development and commercialisation of OPTIM™.

Learn more about the work CSIRO does in Textiles.

OPTIM™ is a trademark of CSIRO Australia.