20. August 2015 | Research & Development
Push for digitalisation of smart textiles
“EU projects like PASTA strengthen international cooperation on important research issues,” said Dr Klaus Jansen, Managing Director of the Forschungskuratorium Textil, the association of the 16 German textile research institutes. Despite Germany’s pioneering role in the field of technical textiles, there are many experts in other European countries, whose knowledge could support and even drive the European textile and garment industry. In the PASTA project, Germany was represented by the Saxon Textile Research Institute. The engineers in Chemnitz were able to batch-process metal thread with semiconductors on embroidery and knitting machines to apply it to large textile panels – a necessary prerequisite for functionalising textiles with electronic features on an industrial production level.
“We use a composite knitting machine by KARL MAYER MALIMO,” explained Dr. Heike Illing-Günther, STFI Research Director. “It has a new weft system that can easily handle very strong weft threads such as carbon. And it was possible to process threads with electronic functions.” The manufacturer of the conductive thread, also known as E-Thread, is Primo 1 D, Grenoble, another PASTA partner. If needed, the metal yarn is functionalised with tiny parts, such as LEDs, using a special process without the usual bonding. The conducting track can be used for supplying electricity, but also as an antenna – for RFID labels – or a data bus.
An elastic connection bonds the integrated electronics securely and appropriately, e.g. with a battery. Plastic protects the “interposer” from moisture, which has meandering contacts that expand or contract with mechanical stress. The module can then be affixed to fabric and connected to E-Threads. The “Crimp Flat Packs” are another new development – microchips or sensors on special copper frames. In order to connect them to the fabric circuit, the contacts and the conductor thread are mechanically pressed together. A self-learning robot system with a vacuum grip moves on four axes and was designed for high production outputs. It also has a camera and can localise the best contact points on the E-Threads inside the textile and put the components in the correct places.
The PASTA project generated several demonstrators. The reflect the full application range – from LEDs in protective gear for rescue workers to smart bedsheets for hospitals with moisture and pressure sensors to smart textiles for damage-free monitoring of load-bearing composite parts. A sensor textile made by Ettlin AG measures the forces and pressures in leg prosthetics in order to improve the fit. Smart textile panels can be used as adjustable heating elements in car seats.
“With the research and technology transfer from the PASTA project, smart textile products can start many new applications in the areas of health, lifestyle, safety and automotive,” said Illing-Günther, Head of STFI Research. “They give important tools to the innovative forces in the textile industry to maintain their top position on the international market and strengthen it with early batch applications.”