Weihenstephan Brewery trusts in GORE-TEX safety footwear

Safety, wet weather protection, wear comfort – highly functional GORE-TEX footwear has been proving its success in the workplace for many decades. With a new, extremely breathable footwear laminate, that is waterproof and at the same time resistant to liquid chemical penetration, Gore is satisfying the growing demand for safety footwear that not only has a more lightweight, athletic design, but also provides the wearer with a pleasant climate inside the shoe, even at elevated temperatures. This means that GORE-TEX safety footwear can now also be worn comfortably indoors throughout the summer.

The first product in this new footwear generation, a lightweight, waterproof S3 shoe with a high climate comfort factor, has already demonstrated its value in the drinks industry. The shoes have been tested in practical real-life situations over a period of two years in an internationally renowned Bavarian enterprise: the Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan, the oldest working brewery in the world.

At the site of the old Weihenstephan monastery perched on top of a hill in the Bavarian town of Freising, there is still a very special atmosphere - much the same as it was 1,000 years ago! “Our production facility is divided into two zones: a warm area and a cold area,” explains technical director Mario Schäfer. The first steps take place at high temperatures in the boiling house. After mashing and lautering the malt is boiled at 104°C. At the end of the boil the “beer wort”, to which the hops have now been added, settles to clarify in a vessel called a “whirlpool” at a temperature of 93°C. After that things get cooler. In the fermentation cellar yeast is added to the “wort” to turn it into alcohol. From here the beer is channelled through the high-humidity, arched-roof cellar structure typical of old breweries to the new area of the cellar where the beer ages at a temperature of 0°C. Finally, the beer is automatically filled into bottles and warehoused - at normal room temperatures.

“A lot of areas of the production process are humid and wet. They are also constantly having to be cleaned in line with food processing regulations. That is why we were so keen to find a modern, comfortable, waterproof, S3 safety shoe that provided our wearers with a high climate comfort factor,” explains Schäfer.

State-owned enterprise with a strong export performance

The oldest working brewery in the world can trace its roots back to an abbey brewery that was first mentioned in records in 1040. Today, at its production site in Weihenstephan, overlooking the Bavarian town of Freising, it has an annual production of around 50 million bottles (60%) and about 320,000 barrels of beer. At least half of this is exported - not only to other European countries but also to the US, China, Japan and Australia.

There’s good reason for this: Weihenstephan is a state-owned enterprise with a strong heritage. “The state shouldn’t compete with the privately-owned companies in the region. Nevertheless, it needs to operate efficiently and safeguard jobs,” says Schäfer. For this reason, from very early on the focus was on exports. Today, thanks to its high quality standards and effective marketing, the Weihenstephan Brewery is known throughout the world. Furthermore, the brewery has one other decisive advantage: Weihenstephan is also a scientific and technology centre. This is where Technische Universität München (TUM) has based its School of Life Sciences and where it offers a degree programme in brewing technology. Members of the university staff are also on the supervisory board of the company.

This means that the brewery and the university are able to work closely together and benefit from the resultant synergies, for instance, when processing technologies need optimising, special brewing yeasts are tested or new types of beer are developed.

The Weihenstephan Brewery currently employs some 139 people. 80 of these employees work in the production - some all of the time, some for only a part of their working day. By law they have to wear S3 safety footwear that is in compliance with standard EN ISO 20345 and has an impact resistant toe cap and penetration resistant sole. Until 2013 they wore different shoe styles from different manufacturers, none of which had a membrane. The disadvantage: they were not durably waterproof. “The proposal to purchase new shoes was on the initiative of the employees,” explains Gerd Abstreiter, who played a leading role in the procurement process. As a machinist he is responsible for spare parts and maintenance at the brewery. As a consequence of the repeated criticism of the shoe styles being worn at the time, a decision was made to explore an entirely new avenue.

Abstreiter and his colleagues set about defining their key requirements. The new S3 footwear needed to be comfortable to wear on the hard concrete and tiled floors of the brewery. Given that these shoes were to be worn for a full day’s work, they also needed to be as light as possible. In addition, they had to be comfortable to wear at a variety of different indoor temperatures, ranging from the coolness of the warehouses through the normal room temperatures found in the production and logistics areas to the heat of the boiling house. Another requirement was that the wearers’ feet should remain dry despite the permanently wet conditions and frequent contact with liquids, particularly during the purification process and on the bottling line. In the end the brewery found what it was looking for at shoe specialist Haix - only 30 km away in the Bavarian town of Mainburg. At the 2013 A+A trade show in Düsseldorf, Haix had recently showcased its “Black Eagle Safety” S3 safety shoe. Developed in partnership with Gore, this shoe is extremely lightweight, has an athletic design and is equipped with a highly breathable GORE-TEX membrane.

Weihenstephan Brewery trusts in GORE-TEX safety footwear

Tested in practical real-life situations over a period of two years

Haix presented the new shoe style in Weihenstephan. “The employees were thrilled,” remembers Gerd Abstreiter. The design was strongly reminiscent of a sports shoe and had a stripe design featuring the blue of the Weihenstephan brand. “However, the decisive factor was that the shoe satisfied all of our requirements.” At the end of 2013 the brewery placed an order for shoes for all of its employees. Within their first year at the Weihenstephan Brewery the shoes were confronted with the harsh realities of industrial use. Although, on the whole the employees were perfectly happy with the new shoes, there was some criticism. Due to the fact that some of the work was done kneeling down, the toe caps became very worn. Also the eyelets for the laces had their weaknesses. At the same time Haix was collecting feedback from other users. On the basis of this feedback and what had been learnt in Weihenstephan, Haix delivered a new, improved series of S3 safety footwear. For over a year now, these shoes have been satisfying all of the requirements. “The wear comfort is extremely high,” says Abstreiter. The employees were able to choose between four different highly breathable styles: a low cut shoe or an ankle-high work boot, with either a black leather or a fabric upper.

180 pairs of shoes were ordered. Two for each employee so they would have a spare pair, and 20 to keep in reserve. GORE-TEX safety footwear needs to handle a wide range of challenges. It is possible that the toe cap may have to offer protection against the impact of a 63 kg barrel of beer; high humidity levels are found throughout the production facilities; there may be broken glass on the floor around the bottling line and in the warehouse; and employees could come into contact with chemicals such as dilute nitric acid, peroxyacetic acid, bleach liquid and caustic soda while carrying out cleaning and sanitation tasks. When the second footwear series was issued, Abstreiter noted that the employees working in the wet area of the brewery all chose leather styles whereas the people working on the bottling lines had opted for the fabric version. This was because without regular care leather shoes tended to become porous. The workers had also now understood that because of the membrane underneath the fabric upper, fabric footwear could be just as waterproof and offer just as much stability. On the basis of the feedback that he has received, technical director Mario Schäfer is able to confirm that the new footwear has met with the workers’ approval and is now typically worn all day. They feel dry and comfortable in the new footwear wherever they work in the facility where temperatures range from 7°C in the cold and humid ageing cellar through the normal room temperature and high humidity of the bottling area to the dry heat of the boiling house where temperatures can reach 40°C.

The brewers and maltsters have even noticed that they sometimes sweat less than in the footwear that they had worn in the past and that did not have a GORE-TEX membrane. The workers are highly appreciative of the waterproofness that demonstrates its true value on the wet floors of the bottling area and ageing cellar. Generally speaking, they are particularly happy with the wear comfort, the light weight and the design of the new footwear.

Laminate and shoe construction

The fact that workers were increasingly calling for safety shoes that were more lightweight and significantly more breathable contributed enormously to the development of the new safety footwear concept. Although shoes that claimed to have these features were already available on the market, as a rule they were not durably liquid proof. “Within as little as 2 years our research team had developed a new membrane and footwear laminate technology that offered a combination of extremely high breathability, durable waterproofness and a certain amount of protection against chemicals,” explains Leonhard Schlichting, product specialist at Gore responsible for safety footwear. What they had come up with was a thin yet extremely robust 3-layer footwear laminate without insulation. The GORE-TEX Extended Comfort Laminate is highly breathable and recognised for its outstanding heat loss. It is durably waterproof while simultaneously offering protection against penetration by certain commonly occurring chemicals, including diesel, AFFF fire-fighting foam (3%), sulphuric acid (37%) and caustic soda (30%) in accordance with ISO 13994/ ASTM F 903, method C1. “This laminate offers true added value to its wearers, underpinning our pre-eminent position in the market for safety footwear,” Schlichting continues. In 2010 it became the basis of a new generation of safety footwear: Athletic GORE-TEX Safety Footwear.

With its lightweight GORE-TEX Safety Footwear, Gore is targeting new fields of application in a wide range of industry sectors. In addition to indoor applications in industries such as the food and drink industry, these include all sectors of the economy in which workers are constantly changing between indoor and outdoor workplaces or getting in and out of vehicles.

There are also requests for a lightweight summer version of the relatively heavy safety footwear developed for utilities and waste management companies. The employees are full of praise for the new shoes. “You almost don’t notice that you’re wearing safety shoes,” says machinist Gerd Abstreiter. Frank Stefan, head of bottling, adds: “These shoes are perfectly geared to our needs.”