Swiss Textiles Association Innovation Day 2014

Textiles provide the basis for new value-creation opportunities

Over 250 participants from universities and textile companies gathered on 21st August for this year's Innovation Day of the Swiss Textiles Association, held at Empa Duebendorf. The main topic of discussion was future potential of textile innovations.
Hanspeter Baer, one of the so-called “Innovation Mentors” of the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI), kicked off the event by introducing the range of opportunities that his organisation makes available to Swiss SMEs. "We're here to make your life easier" he quipped, referring among other things to the total of CHF130 million annually which the CTI disburses to research institutes and companies (including those from the textile sector) to support innovative projects and development work.

What the future holds for 2025
Thomas Strobel of the Munich firm Fenwis GmbH and Klaus Jansen of the Berlin Textile Research Council then daringly shared with the audience their perspective of what the future might hold. They believe there is a good chance that textiles may replace other materials, particularly for technical applications, because they are light, flexible, easily shaped, conductive and can be given specific functional characteristics, to name just some of their useful properties. Strobel and Jensen were responsible for drafting the "Perspectives 2025" forecast, from which they presented several examples to demonstrate the sectors in which textiles or fibre-based materials might, in future, contribute to solving some of the challenges faced by society. Reinforcing material for concrete, sunscreens with integrated energy production, vertical plant supports and clothing with integrated sensors to allow communication between automobiles and pedestrians were among the innovative ideas discussed.

The textile industry’s tradition of exploiting innovative ideas is something that Andrea Weber Marin of the University of Applied Sciences, Lucerne, and Alexis Schwarzenbach of the Zurich Silk Industry Society would like to take advantage of for their project "Silk Memory". This involves the creation of a digital textile archive for the use of students, researchers, designers and textile companies. The raw materials for the project are drawn from the archives and existing collections of many Swiss textile companies, a veritable treasure trove. The aim is twofold –on the one hand to safeguard this material for posterity and on the other to make it easily available in digital form to stimulate new ideas for future designs. The end result is envisioned to be a database which can be accessed online.



  Texnet partners gave participants an insight into what they have to offer in the fields of textile research and development. (© Swiss Texnet, Photograph: Gabriele Pecoraino)

Laser welding – from development to application
On a rather more technical note, Empa engineer Markus Weder introduced the process of laser welding to the Innovation Day participants. This technique is relatively new for textile applications and it allows the creation of absolutely water proof and airtight seams. Weder’s team has now perfected the method, which is already being used in industrial applications with textiles. Markus Hess, from Unico swiss tex GmbH, then gave several relevant examples. His company makes cooling garments for medical and sports applications which rely on this innovative technique, as well as cooling ballistic protection vests and sensor-equipped shirts. However, the laser welding of textiles calls for the use of specially designed hardware, and two firms – Schips AG and Leister AG – have, in collaboration with Empa and the Swiss Textile College, succeeded in developing a laser welding machine suitable for industrial scale production.

Linen fibres are a renewable resource, and are particularly suitable for making lightweight composite structures, as Clemens Dransfeld of the North-West Switzerland University of Applied Sciences informed the audience. Linen represents an alternative to the not quite so sustainable glass or carbon fibre-based materials which are generally used today, though there are several challenges involved which still limit linen’s use such as its wettability and ease of processing. Dransfeld and Empa researcher Dirk Hegemann regard plasma processing as one way of overcoming these difficulties. Linen fibres can be modified in specific ways and given the desired functional properties using this resource-conserving technique, thus making available very strong and light fibres which can be used to reinforce composite materials and which even boast an additional advantage – biocompatibility.
Technical textiles used to protect historical pile dwellings
The last presentation was from Christian Bommer, a civil engineer at the Hochschule für Technik Rapperswil (HSR) and Lorenz Kunz of the firm Sytec Bausysteme AG, showing how they use special geotextiles to protect historical pile dwellings in Lake Zürich, near Rapperswil, from the elements. These ancient structures were added to the list of UNESCO world cultural heritage sites in 2011. This project provides an excellent example of the use of technical textiles for infrastructure applications.
As every year, there was ample time during the breaks for that important activity, networking. The numerous exhibits on show also gave the participants an idea of what the Swiss Texnet partners have to offer in the fields of textile research and development.

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