Leather and polymer coated substrates – at first glance there is a definite contrast between something naturally grown and something technical and man-made. However, at the Forschungsinstitut für Leder und Kunststoffbahnen (FILK) both materials are capable of working hand-in-hand together.
A standardised and fundamental vocational training for tanners and optimisation of technologies and materials for leather production were the main concerns when founding the Deutsche Gerberschule (German Tanner´s School) in 1889, as well as the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Lederindustrie (German Research Centre for the Leather Industry) in 1897, the predecessors of today's Forschungsinstitut für Leder und Kunststoffbahnen (FILK) gGmbH.
Freiberg is located in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains). The montane region is characterised by mining. In this connection, leather played an important role: The rough material was needed for transport containers, drives, clothing and protective equipment - more than ever with commencing industrialisation. There used to be a lot of tanneries and factories in Freiberg area. Supported by the existing teaching and research culture of the well-established Bergakademie (mining academy) and the nearby Forstakademie (forest academy) in Tharandt, there was an ideal infrastructure in Freiberg for founding the Deutsche Gerberschule in 1889, which finally should ensure, standardise and further develop the quality of the vocational training of tanners.
Years later in 1897, the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Lederindustrie opened in direct vicinity of the Deutsche Gerberschule; the task was to establish a scientific base for the tanning and leather trades in order to meet the requirements of the rapidly progressing industrialisation and the higher demands on the material leather by using more efficient technologies and developing new or better material properties.
However, leather was and is available only in limited quantities. Compared to technical materials, the properties of leather can be adjusted only in a limited way, as it is a natural product. With the establishment of synthetic polymers, the search for alternative materials started, thus marking the beginning for the research and development of polymer coated substrates.
During the 1960s in Freiberg started the development of materials with leather-like properties, as the material to be substituted was best known here. An important part of the research work still focuses on the natural collagen and a selected range of synthetic polymers. Leather and coated textiles and products relating in application and properties would later become the object of innovative activities.