Clothing embedded with electronic sensors and microprocessors was once the stuff of science fiction. Now an EU-funded project is looking at ways of improving manufacturing techniques required by so-called e-textiles. The results could lead to a new generation of interactive, or 'smart', clothing and footwear that can monitor health, activity and location.
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The ETexWeld project is investigating the use of welding technology as a means of bonding practical, strong e-textile structures capable of carrying electronic devices and informatics. Manufacturers have been using welding techniques to make clothes since the 1940s, although their use has mainly been restricted to high-end products such as close-fitting active wear, weather-resistant jackets and specialist work-wear.
So far, the use of welding to construct e-textile garments has not been fully exploited. However, the technique is expected to have a positive impact on the development of interactive clothing by providing better protection against electric shocks, improved comfort and style, and a reduction in the bulk and weight of a finished garment.
The project team will develop a prototype of protective clothing loaded with a range of electronics including transmission lines, sensors, actuators and on-body computers. The garment will be assessed for its durability and comfort, as well as its ability to monitor the users safety in an environmentally risky situation. The welded e-textiles devised by the project will be tested against products which use more traditional stitching methods such as weaving, knitting and sewing.
ETexWeld involves 11 partners from 7 countries, including university R&D teams, clothing manufacturers, and experts in smart textile technologies and electronics. The project is backed by the EUs Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE). RISE promotes international collaboration between different sectors for the exchange of knowledge than can take research to the marketplace.