IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTICE - The information on this site is subject to a disclaimer and a copyright notice
Banner Research
  European Commission   > Research > Growth
Homepage Competitive and Sustainable Growth - Making the European Research Area a Reality
Graphic element
Graphic element
Graphic element
Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Products & processes projects > Plasmas boost textile properties
Graphic element Plasmas boost textile properties

Plasmatex was set up to realise the potential of plasma technology as a means for treating fabrics industrially to achieve various surface functions. This technology offers a versatile approach with the potential to overcome the cost and environmental problems associated with current techniques for modifying fabric surfaces. However, the available plasma processes need substantial modification to make them suitable for handling open-width fabrics and for treatments at atmospheric pressure. The project has been very successful with the expectation that work can continue to optimise the process and cover a wider range of materials and products.

The use of plasma - an energetic gaseous state made up of positive ions and negative electrons, and sometimes known as "the 4th state of matter" - is now well-established as a versatile technology for modifying the surfaces of polymers and metals. By appropriate choice of plasma composition and process conditions, it enables material surface characteristics to be tailored to meet specific requirements. This can be carried out under dry conditions and with neither high consumption of energy and raw materials nor pollution.

Role for plasmas in the textile industry

The textile industry has long recognised that, for a large number of processes and applications, the surface properties are a key aspect of the product and often need to be quite different from those of the fabric bulk. Reasons include: enhancing dye uptake and colour fastness; reducing textile finishing, printing and coating costs; improving the bonding and adhesion properties of coated and laminated fabrics; sterilisation and optimising biocompatibility essential for medical implants containing wet liquid chemical processes. Because of the large amounts of energy involved and the high consumption - and pollution - of water, these techniques are intrinsically costly and environmentally unfriendly. In addition, these processes, in effect, treat the fabric bulk, something which is unnecessary and may adversely effect overall product performance.

The industry is, therefore, strongly motivated to seek alternative surface engineering processes which could offer lower cost, environmentally-friendly manufacturing and routes to new products, with improved lifetime, quality and performance. Plasma processing would appear to provide an attractive approach for the surface-treatment needs of the textile industry.

However, the plasma technologies being exploited today use low-pressure plasmas, requiring closed, vacuum-system equipment, making them quite unsuitable for the continuous, room temperature treatment of fabrics on an industrial scale.

Realising an industrial-scale process

Established under BRITE-EURAM III in the Fourth Framework Programme, the Plasmatex project was aimed at developing a complete plasma processing system which would allow the potential for plasma treatment of textiles and non-wovens to be realised on an industrial scale. This would include:

1. the plasma equipment itself;
2. the necessary fabric feed and take-up equipment; and
3. supporting background plasma characterisation and modelling data.

In particular, the detailed objectives were to develop an atmospheric pressure plasma system (APPS) which could be evaluated and shown to be effective in at least one of a range of process and product improvements.

  Assembling a broadly based team

The Plasmatex project, which started in February 1997 and closed at the end of April 2000, involved a broadly-based team with membership representing research, equipment manufacture and textile-processing interests.

The Swedish Institute of Fibre and Polymer Research (IFP), under Prof. Roshan Shishoo, acted as project co-ordinator and, with the other research partner, Queens University Belfast UK (School of Mathematics and physics), participated in fundamental studies on surface modifications and the modelling and characterisation of plasmas.

Plasma Ireland was responsible for the development and construction of three prototype atmospheric plasma systems which included handling equipment developed and supplied by Web Processing. For industrial scale evaluation, these prototypes were made available to six companies, covering a diverse range of textile products and processing interests:

1. One prototype, located at the IFP, in Sweden was used by Almedahls, Borgstena Textile and SCA Hygiene Products to evaluate the effect of the process on cotton and cotton-polyester woven fabrics, car upholstery polyester fabrics and wet-laid non-wovens.

2. Kirchhoff in Germany used the second unit to assess whether plasma treatment would eliminate problem of felting in woollen fabrics. Spanish company Polisilk determined whether adhesion characteristics of polypropylene fabrics could be improved.

3. The Scapa Group in the UK used the third unit for testing the effects of plasma treatment on various specialised fabrics, used as paper-machine clothing.

  Keen to continue development

The project has been very successful, demonstrating the feasibility of atmospheric pressure plasma technology to work on an industrial scale and be effective in the surface treatment of textiles. The experience gained with the three prototypes has already been applied to the construction of a new unit and the group at Queen's University has come up with simple, reliable techniques to characterise the plasma during processing.

Although the project reached a formal completion, there is an impetus from the team members for development work to continue. This would allow the range of materials treated to be extended and the process to be optimised - for example,. in terms of line speed and gas utilisation. A Technical Implementation Plan is being prepared for consideration by the Commission.

Role for plasmas in the textile industry
Realising an industrial-scale process
Assembling a broadly based team
Keen to continue development

Key data

Improving manufacturing technology is an important part of the Products, processes and organisation key action. The Plasmatex project had the objective of developing and demonstrating the feasibility of a plasma-based, industrial-scale process to meet the needs of the textile industry and offer a tool for product development and innovation.

Project: Plasmatex - Development plasma technology continuous processing textile fabrics nonwovens (BRPR96 0365)

Homepage Graphic element Top of the page