Five innovative products to help revitalise Europe's textile sector
A European research project, Nu-Wave, has produced new tools to help Europe's textile industry restore its position on the world market.
The project team developed five innovative products that could revive the sector: a crochet knitting machine made with new composite materials; an online calculator to help companies measure their environmental impact; a new yarn dyeing machine; a testing desk for wear resistance of metal parts; and an online tool to help exchange ideas and inventions. The results mean less energy and water use, lighter and stronger machines, and fewer chemicals wasted.
“Europe cannot hope to dominate the world market in volume, but we can fill the niche markets for high-quality, lower-volume, value-added products with innovative and smart machines,” says Nu-Wave’s project coordinator Andrea Pestarino, a manager at the Italian engineering consulting company, D'Appolonia S.p.A. “We have to revitalise production processes. We need to modernise and renovate the noisy, antiquated machinery and supply highly innovative, top quality products to the market. We also need to reduce energy use and become more environmentally friendly,” explains Pestarino.
The new crochet knitting machine uses a carbon fibre weft bar (replacing aluminium), a carbon fibre actuating rod (replacing steel alloys), and ceramic coated titanium guiding pins (replacing steel). The new materials are stronger, lighter and longer lasting. The challenge was not just about changing components, but building a machine that would cope with the increased pressures, which meant allowing only a 0.25mm error position for the yarn. The prototype is 50% lighter than a conventional textile machine, consumes half of the energy and produces 1kg less carbon emissions per hour. It also uses 30% less floor-space.
The environmental web-tool, called Green Label, applies to the textile industry the basic principles of environmental footprint calculation, and not just in carbon emissions but for a life cycle assessment covering all the stages of the product's life (from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling). It provides suggestions for a smart exploitation of resources and energy to figure out how to lower the environmental footprint when technical improvements are made, meaning cost savings for the companies involved.
The online idea exchange, called the Knowledge Repository, collects all new textile patents and other results in a database that act like “a Wikipedia of textiles,” according to Pestarino. Owned by the SMEs involved, aims to support companies, particularly SMEs in the conception, design and validation of new textile machines and components based on the latest knowledge and technologies. Anyone involved can log in, and enrich this tool at the same time with the latest innovations.
The testing desk for metal parts wear resistance simulates one million cycle contacts between yarns and machine components. It tests the different parts with different loads under different working conditions.
Dying is very complicated and small changes in chemicals can mean big changes in colour and finish. The yarn dying machine is based on an optical control that can monitor in real time the chemicals in the water. It can then perform an online evaluation and help manage the mix of acidity, temperature, conductivity and colour. The result has meant using 70% less chemicals and water.
Pestarino says that the project succeeded in giving European textile makers more of a competitive edge. “It was about exchanging ideas and enlarging the brainstorming process,” he says. “Nu-Wave showed that you can really cut production costs, with fewer raw materials and chemicals, less energy, and produce less waste. We showed that these targets are not a dream,” he concludes.
All the research that emerged from the project is shared among the partners, with the online tools already in use while plans are underway to turn the dyeing and crochet knitting prototypes into factory machines.