Like the threads spun by a busy spider, nowadays smart yarns from the textile industry are growing to spread over many industries, such as fashion, the automotive sector or aerospace. They illuminate, control, measure and heat in processes derived directly from the textile. And the smart network is continuing to take shape.
“We mean to show how intelligent textiles knit”, says Sophia Krinner, product manager at the textile-machinery manufacturer Karl Mayer. The word “knit” is itself a programme: the controlling spider bandage, which communicates with the little creepy-crawly on the football table, originates from a knitting machine produced by the company from Obertshausen in Hesse. The conducting fibres in the polyamide fabric and their circuitry were contributed by the Thuringen Vogtland Textile Research Institute (Textilforschungsinstitut Thüringen Vogtland e.V.).
“By the use of knitting, conducting fibres – and thus the smart functions – can be incorporated into the basic textile material in the ongoing process without additional production stages”, explains Krinner. “We definitely consider smart textiles to be a technology of the future”, says the manager; nor does she need to worry in case the battery in her smartphone threatens to go flat: directly adjacent to the spider football table is a smart induction textile, on which she can load the battery in a contactless process.
Be careful: smart textiles can overwhelm
Thus the company is plainly backing the right horse – or rather, the right spider: according to a study by the Centre for European Economic Research, commissioned by the German Ministry of Economic Affairs, by 2022 the world-wide volume of smart textiles will grow to just under five billion Euros. For 2030 annual sales of 4.2 billion Euros are forecast for Germany alone.
Björn Sobischek has also recognised this smart potential. At Techtextil the founder of the engineering practice Future Lighting Technologies is showcasing contactless switches, luminous cushions and heat-giving non-woven fabrics, which he has developed in close collaboration with automotive, railway and aircraft manufacturers, among others. The former automotive engineer admits: “Everyone who sees smart textiles for the first time is overwhelmed”. In the automotive industry, he explains, there are engineers for light, for surfaces, textiles, etc. “But in an intelligent textile we have combined so much technology in one go, no-one ever believes us that it works”, says Sobischek.
Lunative is a company showing its “Luna Smart IoT” technology for the first time at Techtextil. By means of this technology, luna-light components incorporated into the textile can be controlled by a user interface, mobile devices, or even completely passively. A special illuminated jacket is demonstrated as an example: its light alters to “follow” the rhythm of any music you like. Behind this technology stand polymer optical fibres (POFs), i.e. light wave conductors made of plastic, which are used mainly for data transmission, but which can also be used as sidelight fibres for passive illumination. Achim Pörtner, head of development at Lunative, has no doubt: “Smart textiles are ready for serial production”.