Testing tack with Neue Schule
The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has provided an independent testing service to Neue Schule to help the equestrian hardware company demonstrate the thermal performance of its products.
Neue Schule is based in Stokesley, North Yorkshire, and specialises in horse bits - the mouthpiece that helps the rider communicate with the horse. Bits need to equilibrate thermally either as fast as possible or as slowly as possible in order for the horse to be comfortable and clearly receive direction from the rider. This means making them out of materials that have either a very high or very low thermal conductivity.
"In theory you could use a polymer, which has a low thermal conductivity, but this is not always practical so metal really is the only option," explains Dr Graham Cross, Technical Director at Neue Schule and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physics at Durham University. "You need to find a metal with the highest thermal conductivity to reduce the difference in temperature between the horse's mouth and the bit, as quickly as possible."
Neue Schule developed its own metal compound called Salox for use in its products. This comprises copper for high thermal diffusivity, as well as other agents for strength and to prevent tarnishing. The Salox material and its high thermal conductivity is a unique selling point of a Neue Schule bit.
The company designed a material with the correct properties and received promising results from rudimentary testing, but it needed more concrete proof to fully convince its customers, and its competitors.
"There was one particular competitor who didn't believe that we had this material with such a high thermal conductivity - they were claiming we were misrepresenting it," says Dr Cross. "So, we needed to have it tested using a reliable technique carried out by a trusted body such as NPL."
NPL carried out tests on the Salox material and the competitor's material using an instrument known as the laser flash apparatus. This fires a short pulse of laser energy at one side of a sample and employs an infrared detector to measure the temperature rise at the opposite side.
The results from this test can then be used to calculate a value for the thermal conductivity of the material, and feedback is given to the company. Neue Schule features the test results on a dedicated section on its website.
When asked about the testing carried out in the project, Dr Cross said: "We are very fortunate to be able to get these measurements made at NPL. The laser-pulsed technique was brilliant and you know that the people carrying out the measurements are the ones in charge of the standards, and that they regularly calibrate them."
Neue Schule's initial customer base grew out of the dressage community, which needs high performance tack to ensure the riders can communicate subtly with the horse. Its customers are also interested in the comfort and welfare of their horses, and are willing to pay a premium for a product that has been well researched and developed with that aim in mind.
Dr Cross added: "There are knowledgeable people out there and it's great to be able to pull out the NPL test results and explain to them what they say about our product."
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