SMARTCOMP: Smart Textiles for Composites

23 January 2018

SMARTCOMP: Smart Textiles for Composites

The SMARTCOMP: Research and Development of Smart Composites Based on the Implementation of Textronic Elements and Functional Materials project aims to develop smart textile structures for use in the manufacture of composites for decoration, interior design, habitats and the creative industries in general.

Project leader AITEX offers the experience required to develop smart textiles for a wide range of applications, among which is the institute’s ability to incorporate sensors into composite materials creating a textile providing a smart response to external stimuli.

Examples of the facilities employed by AITEX in the development of smart functional materials within the scope of the SMARTCOMP project include the following.

Textile embroidered circuit technology. Embroidery allows a strand to be woven into a flexible surface and the technology is used to insert high-performance, electrically-conductive yarn into different types of fabric. It is a highly efficient way of integrating sensors, actuators, connections and energy supply systems into a cloth. The process also works with silk, wool and linen yarn among others and allows the insertion of sequins in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and can create weaves or insert tapes and laces. The varied capability which embroidery provides can also be put to use in the development of functional composite materials for the fields of application considered by the project.

Digital printing technology for flexible circuits. Electronic printing allows an electronic or photonic device to be imprinted onto a fabric using techniques which are more commonly-associated with the graphic arts, the main difference being that conducting or semi-conducting inks are used. Electronic printing is no longer in an experimental phase, and today is a reality which has opened up myriad possibilities with huge potential. The technique permits innovative functionalities and differentiating properties to be conferred on commercially-available textile products. Its most outstanding characteristics are its flexibility, ease of integration, its capacity to adapt to different environments, cost-effectiveness and the fact that it can be scaled up relatively easily into larger formats. Advances in modern printing devices and inks has led to the ability to superimpose successive layers over each other, each layer made of materials with different conductive and electrochemical properties and characteristics to enable the creation of new applications and the development of functional textiles with a range of properties such as electroluminescence, heated fabrics and sensor-enabled fabrics, among others.

Continuous laminating technology. There are many types of laminating available. Continuous laminating technology uses an uninterrupted system which applies pressure and temperature to bond different types of substrates. The process is performed in a tunnel through which the materials are passed on a Teflon-coated conveyor belt. The system includes fully-independent heating and cooling components to ensure that the material and adhesives are heated to the correct temperature and bonded successfully. The composite is then cooled to ensure that the layers remain stable and properly aligned. The system can bond a wide variety of components to form a single composite, including textile, foam, conglomerates, etc. both rigid and flexible, and of varying thicknesses, weight and performance. Pressure, temperature, speed and the gap between the belts can all be adjusted to optimum settings. Continuous laminating differs from other methods in its ability to produce long runs of composites using a variety of bonding agents (adhesives in powder, film or membrane, etc.). The bonding agent, apart from providing the necessary adherence between the component layers, also provides different mechanical properties depending on the thermoplastic polymer applied and the weight used during lamination. The system has huge potential in the development of laminated composites incorporating smart textile components.

With this approach, the SMARTCOMP project aims to create validated prototypes which will be used to develop and manufacture enhanced functional articles.

Photo provided by SMARTCOMP

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