The textile product manufacturing sector in Europe is facing decline as a result of the labour intensive methods used and competition from the Far East where labour costs are far lower. There are 20000 European SME companies involved in the protective clothing value chain, which have suffered a 14% reduction in employment and a 34% increase in imports in the last 5 years. Competition will increase after 31 Dec 2004, when all textile and clothing import quotas will be removed as a result of the expiry of the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC). Laser welding of textiles provides high quality seams with good aesthetic appearance and offers an excellent opportunity to increase automation in production of many textile products, as the process is non-contact and applied from one side of the joint only. By replacing the two-stage process of stitching and seam taping with welding, the seam barrier properties, reliability and endurance will be improved.
This project aims to develop the fabric materials, equipment and procedures required to allow use of laser welding in protective clothing manufacture. The main development areas will be of a reconfigurable support surface and clamping to hold the variety of fabrics and seam shapes, and in design of a pressure application device to consolidate the weld. Prototype equipment and process operating routines will be developed to meet the requirements of ISO6529 and ASTM D1683-04 for barrier performance and seam strength. As a result a new market will be created in supply of automated equipment and fabrics for welding of sealed seams in protective clothing (NBC suits, firefighting etc.) and furniture upholstery, the competitiveness of SMEs that invest in these methods will be improved, more skilled jobs will be created and the safety of those using the more reliably sealed protective clothing will be improved. Additionally, the land filling rate will be reduced as a result of the increased life time of the textile products.
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Funding SchemeCOOPERATIVE -