Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

FP6

ALTEX — Result In Brief

Project ID: 17614
Funded under: FP6-SME

Laser technology enhances protective clothing

Across Europe, millions work in dangerous environments that call for protective clothing. Beyond these varied industries, there is also a large market for outdoor waterproof sportswear and leisurewear.
Laser technology enhances protective clothing
Highly engineered fabrics obstruct particles, liquids or gases from passing through protective clothing. However, the fabrics have to be joined by sewing methods that penetrate the material. This requires a second taping process to reseal the fabrics. Alternative sealing methods using an additional layer at the seam between the fabrics are time-consuming and highly labour-intensive procedures. Another limitation is that the sealed seam often delaminates due to the limited peel strength of taped seams and the bending of joints during use, maintenance and washing.

Replacing the two-stage process of stitching and seam taping with welding can significantly improve seam barrier properties, reliability and endurance. By employing a laser welding method, sealed seams can be made without using additional film at the joints, and can provide aesthetic, high-quality seams. The method also has the potential to increase automation in the production of various textile products.

The 'Automated laser welding for textiles' (ALTEX) project aimed to develop fabric materials, equipment and procedures suitable for employing laser welding in the manufacture of protective clothing. The EU-funded project used recent laser welding process innovations in efforts to establish an automation process suited to a fully automated production line for garment or other textile product manufacture.

Team members tested existing fabrics for waterproof applications and developed new fabrics to improve performance and laser processing capability. Experimental results showed it is possible to make high-integrity seams that exceed current industry requirements for resistance to water penetration. Project work identified appropriate alterations to be made to fabrics for further improving performance and weldability using the laser seaming process.

In efforts to develop equipment allowing for the construction of complex textile products of varying sizes and designs, a reconfigurable table to support the fabric parts was designed. This was integrated with a laser beam delivery unit that offers controlled laser heating and pressure application along the textile seams.

Sensors on a final welding head monitor weld temperature and provide continuous control of laser power, allowing for very high weld consistency at all times. This work has already resulted in a patent application. Other project activities revealed that laser welding of textiles can be used for the manufacture of simple or complex shapes, provided the appropriate clamping and support systems are used. The laser welding operation of a jacket was estimated to take about 10 minutes versus the 45 minutes needed in the manual stitching and taping process.

Project outcomes have the potential to create a new market in the supply of automated equipment and fabrics for welding of sealed seams in protective clothing and furniture upholstery. This will enhance the competitiveness of SMEs investing in these methods, and provide more skilled jobs in the industry.

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