EU-project PASTA prepares the ground for serial production
LED’s in wall fabrics which show the nearest exit with luminous arrows in case of fire; RFID-labels “hidden” in fabrics which identify brand name manufacturers precisely making product piracy more difficult: Applications such as these examples will be realized easier with the preliminary work of PASTA (Platform for Advanced Smart Textile Applications)
The aim of the EU-project, a R&D-network of 13 enterprises from 5 countries, was to develop new technologies for the cost-effective serial production of smart textiles and to provide those transnationally. After 4 years, the project was finished successfully. “EU-projects such as PASTA strengthen cross-border cooperation concerning important research topics”, managing director of the Forschungskuratorium Textil, Dr. Klaus Jansen, points out. The FKT is an umbrella organization of 16 German textile research institutes which coordinates the industrial collective research activities on the field of fibre-based materials.
Although Germany is leading in the field of technical textiles, there are various experts in Europe supporting the European textile industry and pushing it forward.
For Germany, the Saxony textile research institute in Chemnitz, STFI was partner of the project. The engineers from Chemnitz managed to work metal yarn with integrated semiconductors into large-sized textile fabrics using serial production on embroidery and warp knitting machines – a precondition to functionalize textiles electronically on a large scale.
Impetus from STFI
„We use a composite warp knitting machine by KARL MAYER MALIMO”, Dr. Heike Illing-Günther, Head of Research at STFI. “It uses an innovative filling insertion system which enables the weft insertion of high-strength fibres such as carbon. Furthermore, the insertion of electronically functionalised yarn could be realised as well.”
Producer of the conductive thread, also known as E-Thread, is Primo 1 D, Grenoble which is also participating in PASTA. When required, the metal yarn is functionalised by tiny components such as LED’s using a special process without bonding – which would be the normal procedure. Besides being the power supply, the conductor path can serve as an antennae – see RFID-labelling – or as a data bus.
This elastic link provides a safe wiring of the integrated electronics adapted perfectly to the material properties for example to a rechargeable battery. The “interposer”, protected against moisture by means of a plastic material, has meander-shaped contacts that stretch or tighten at mechanical strain. Such a module can be fixed to the tissue and connected with the E-Threads. More recent developments are “Crimp Flat Packs”, micro chips or sensors on special copper carrier frames. To integrate those into the electricity circuit of the fabric, their contact parts and the conductive yarn are pressed in mechanically. To serve high rates in serial production, a self-learning robotic system with vacuum grippers was designed to move automatically on four axes. It uses a camera to locate the ideal contact points on the E-Threads in the textile and places the components perfectly.
A number of demonstrators
A number of demonstrators were derived from the PASTA-project. They reflect the whole range of applications: from LED’s in protective clothing for rescue teams or smart bed sheets for hospitals including moisture and pressure sensors up to intelligent textiles to monitor load-carrying components. A sensor textile of Ettlin AG measures the powers occurring in artificial legs to improve the adaption to the body. Smart textile fabrics are suitable for adjustable heating elements in car seats.
“With the research and technology transfer performed by PASTA, a lot of new applications can be implemented by innovative textiles in the fields of health, lifestyle, safety or automotive”, Head of Research at STFI, Heike Illing-Günther is sure. “They provide the textile sector with important tools to maintain their leading position on the global market and to strengthen it by serial productions. “