Babies recruited to help develop the nappy of the future
By Stephan Scheuer Feb 20, 2012, 3:06 GMT
Berlin - Scientists in the German town of Schwalbach am Taunus are working on a new type of nappy with the assistance of thousands of infants from the surrounding region.
Six-month-old Lotte is just one of the babies involved in helping researchers develop the nappy of the future. For the last two months Lotte's mother Sabine Gramberg has brought her child to the research facility once a week and keeps her entertained with the help of a colourful toy.
'You're doing very well,' the 42-year-old whispers to Lotte as her skin is being tested with a silver probe to see how dry it has remained after she wore a new nappy prototype the previous night. A short time later figures begin appearing on the monitor screen at the end of the table.
'We're in the process of developing the nappies of the future,' says Frank Wiesemann, head of the Pampers research team. The main objective of the researchers is to develop a more absorbent product. 'It's also important that nothing escapes if an infant falls on his bottom,' explains Wiesemann.
There are currently 350 people working in Schwalbach on new products for US company Procter & Gamble. Other firms, such as Hydra, are also working with children to develop new products. The moisture levels on the children's skin under the nappies is tested with the perfect result where the skin is as dry as skin elsewhere, says Wiesemann.
The test figures appear on the monitor screen, showing that Lotte's skin released eight grams of water per square metre of skin. Gramberg turns her child onto her back and pulls the Pampers nappy down so that the researchers can measure the water level for the skin under the nappy.
The result is 6 grams per square metre, meaning that the skin under Lotte's nappy is actually drier than the skin on her leg. 'That's only because she was a little bit unsettled during the first measurement,' explains the scientist operating the equipment.
Wiesemann says he has had no difficulty finding volunteers to work on the research project, with some parents actually calling the scientists working at the facility and asking to be included. 'Most of the mothers from the surrounding region are involved in the research,' says Wiesemann. 'The parents get a free supply of nappies for the duration of the research and also receive a small amount of monetary compensation for their efforts and to cover costs.'
At least 3,000 children have to test a nappy before it can be considered ready for launch on the market, with between two and 10 years of research generally required for a new generation of Pampers.
There is no risk for the infants involved in the tests on the prototype nappies, Pampers scientists say, something confirmed by Konrad Giersdorf from the German product-testing foundation Stiftung Warentest.
Gramberg, who learned about the research tests from friends, is happy for both Lotte and son Mika to be involved in the tests, for which she receives 20 euros (26 dollars) each time. 'It's not a major effort for me as I can reach the laboratory by car in just 12 minutes,' she says.
'It's a nice distraction for the children,' says Gramberg as she puts on her daughter's trousers after the skin moisture measurement process has finished.