Callum Bentley explores two new textile technologies breaking new ground in 3D printing and intelligent materials.
Here’s a thought.
Imagine walking into your department store or fashion retailer of choice on the hunt for a new pair of jeans.
Avoiding the clamouring masses fighting over the last pair of said casual trousers in their size, you calmly meander to a computer terminal, enter a few details and read the latest news on your smart phone before a store clerk brings you a pair of fresh jeans. They’ve been made to your exact measurements in a few minutes on a bespoke 3D printer. You already know they fit, so there’s no need to line up for a fitting room.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
While this kind of euphoric shopping experience isn’t available yet, textile manufacturers around the UK are in the process of making it a reality.
Speaking proudly to TM about his product from a phone line in Israel, Shai Etzion, vice president of business development at Manchester-based textile manufacturer Tamicare explains how his company developed a new type of textile manufacturing process while trying to develop a new, disposable women’s hygiene product about 10 years ago.
He says Tamicare set up shop in Manchester to try and partner with other textile manufacturers which it could rely on to offer solutions in manufacturing its product – Cosyflex, a new non-woven fabric. While the partnerships did not come to pass, in the end the venture turned into something far more ambitious.
“It turned out [the local manufacturers] could not offer us the right solutions, so we ended up having to source our own tooling machines so we could make Cosyflex to our own specs,” Mr Etzion said. “For this specific product we used natural materials like latex and cotton because it would need to be a disposable product and would have to be sustainable.
“So the original manufacturing of the Cosyflex material was based on those polymers. It turns out that when we were looking for a specific solution for the product we came up with an entirely new manufacturing process.”
What Tamicare developed was a process in which textile fibres including cotton and latex are sprayed as a liquid onto a template where they set before being removed and finished. The entire process takes minutes, is completely automated and, due to the fact that there is no cutting or stitching, there is no waste.
“We made this technology with a specific disposable hygiene product in mind, but it turned out that we had created something much bigger,” Etzion said. “With Cosyflex you can build numerous products.”
Tamicare’s technology and its Cosyflex product has drawn massive consumer interest, with global companies such as Victoria’s Secret entering into talks for a supply contract.
Etzion also says the company is developing products such as compression bandages for customers in the healthcare sector and is even extending into the automotive market.
“We have a lot of interest from the automotive industry where we are developing fabrics for places like under the hood, and it shows that we have a significant advantage over the textiles they use have today,” he said. “The main advantage is our minimal waste of material,” he sums up.
- One pair of disposable underpants can be created in less than three seconds using spray nozzle printing
- Superfast printing gives Tamicare the capacity to print up to 10 million pairs of knickers a year
- Increased demand saw the company move to a new, larger 1800 sq m facility last year
Another area Cosyflex is aiming to forge its way into is the sporting goods market. With a huge growth in compression garments, it’s not difficult to see how this product and technology could make an impact on the sports clothing industry.
However, there is another technology-driven textile manufacturer that is making waves in this area.
Daniel Plant is the creator of Armourgel, a protective textile that can be woven into existing garments to help protect against falls and abrasions.
The smart material is made of polymers which are extremely strain-rate sensitive. What this means is that the polymers inside the fabric are soft when a low strain rate is applied, however when higher speeds or impacts are applied, it becomes more rigid.
“The material itself is actually active,” says Mr Plant, who also works as a researcher in the mechanical engineering department of London’s Imperial College.
“It has a special geometry, which we call a re-entrance geometry, and materials with this geometry are auxetic. This basically means that, whereas when you stretch a regular material it gets thinner, when you stretch an auxetic material it actually gets fatter.”
What this means for customers is that if you were to say, come off your mountain bike while travelling at ludicrous speeds, your chances of surviving the crash, or at least suffering far fewer broken bones, is far greater.
Or for the more domestic use, if your elderly mother was to slip and fall, the chances of her breaking her hip would be significantly reduced.
It is the latter of these examples that inspired the creation of Armourgel and has drawn considerable interest from the healthcare sector.
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However the application of this revolutionary product to a range of uses, including workplace health and safety garments, is evident.
Mr Plant says he has already worked on products where Armourgel’s auxetic material is applied to 3D printed vests to create energy absorbing products but the entrepreneur and engineer has bigger ambitions for his material.
Plant aims to have a wearable garment made entirely from Armourgel that can collect data about a fall and report it for analysis using technology being developed and tested in the start-up’s labs. The data could be used to help prevent similar falls and accidents happening again.
“We have the technology to measure the force of the fall, the location, when the fall or impact occurred and report that back.
“I think that kind of information in a healthcare system is extremely important. It’s not just the airbag approach where they go off to protect you only when they need to,” Plant enthuses. “We have a device here that protects the person when they fall over, but which we can take one step further by logging data about their activity to reveal where and why they are falling. In a nursing home for example, you can then work on compliance for specific areas of the facility.”
The Armourgel technology could have massive financial repercussions considering the NHS spends more than £1.73 billion annually on beds and hospital care for elderly patients affected by hip injuries.