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Welding of E-Textiles for Interactive Clothing

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ETexWeld (Welding of E-Textiles for Interactive Clothing)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2019-06-30

The new field of science dealing with the implementation of electronics to textiles in combination with informatics is known as e-textiles. ETEXWELD project has led knowledge transfer among partners in order to develop innovative e-textile structures for firefighter’s protective clothing using welding technologies by bringing experts from different countries, sectors and disciplines together to focus their effort in innovative e-textile product designs.
The project is the combination of welding, textiles, electronics and informatics technologies that aims to develop novel e-textile structures including transmission lines, sensors, actuators, personalized algorithms, on-body computing and user feedbacks in order to make a breakthrough towards development of interactive fire fighter’s suit that able to monitor health, activity, position of the firefighter when he is in a firefighting operation.
In the project, the welding technologies are mainly used in three concepts:
I. Designing transmission lines of e-textile structures;
II. Integration of electronic elements (different sensors, actuators, microprocessors, data transmission and power supply systems) to textile structures;
III. Design and development of the whole e-textile system for firefighter’s protective clothing.
During the project, almost all the parts of the smart textile system has been achieved for 1st generation, but the market readiness of the system has not been proved. However, 1st generation performances obtained in the ETEXWELD will probably lead pioneering contributions to new generation of firefighters’ suits and pieces of equipment towards European policy objectives and strategies. Moreover, new market opportunities are expected to arise in the area of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
In the ETEXWELD, Firefighter Suit is chosen as a first prototype that will be converted to interactive clothing using welding techniques. In order to transform the firefighters’ suit into the interactive structure, materials used for the development of e-textile structures have been realized and chosen carefully considering both electronic architecture and textile architecture of the e-textile structure separately. During selection of electronic materials; integrability to textile structure, weight, size, working range, accuracy, usability, flexibility, power consumption, generation and cost issues of the electronics were taken into consideration. The mechanical, physical and comfort properties of fabrics that can be suitable for firefighter suit manufacturing have been investigated. The compatibility of those fabrics with welding processing techniques have been also discussed during selection process so that the integration of electronic components together with conductive yarns can be achieved using those fabrics after being processed via welding technology.

To transform a garment into an interactive structure, the development of an electronic system for sensing of environmental and body parameters with wireless communication capabilities is required. The design of electrical circuits and electrical interface structures and their performance tests have been performed. Specifically, the development of internal and external modules for communication of firefighter’s team, the measurements of the physiological (ECG, Body temperature) and environmental (external temperature, position) signals of each firefighter, and the wireless transmission of the data to a central collection point where the team is coordinated by a central unit during an action have been realized. In order to connect electronic components of the firefighter suit, textile-based transmission lines were manufactured using welding tapes via hot air welding technology.

The design and manufacturing of fabric-based electronic components such as textile based antennas for communication levels of firefighter suit, fabric capacitor, thermoelectric fabric, textile-based temperature sensor, textile-based LED arrays and ECG e-textile device have been realized. The hot air welding parameters have been optimized for construction of e-textile transmission lines in terms of signal transfer and conductivity. Also, fabric structures were subjected to textile general functional property tests such as thickness, strength, water resistance, moisture management, water vapour permeability, thermal conductivity, tactile comfort properties, bending, flame tests etc.

The first trials for integration of PCB structures are achieved together with their washing tests. Though, the test results revealed that an improvement stage is necessary for having comfortable, robust and reliable interfaces on the firefighter suit.
Textile sector is a significant part of the world’s economy and is becoming more integrated with different technologies. As being one promising part of the textile sector, e-textiles are still largely at the development stage to integrate textile technologies with electronics through different technologies in the world. The work realized within the ETEXWELD project has initiated reflexions and activities that have conducted to the application of an interactive firefighter’s suit. Many very interesting and encouraging results related to interactive clothing structures containing sensors, actuators, power and communication devices and control modules have been obtained. Moreover, firmware and software have been developed to run and connect all the devices with the web database within a cloud for development of whole e-textile system of an interactive firefighter suit. That means newly developed innovative e-textile structures together with on body-computing algorithms and control modules towards development of interactive firefighter suit and process knowledge for production of e-textiles will sustainably pioneer a new field in textile and electronic industry and besides, it is predicted to have importance on worldwide textile economy. Particularly, the introduction of new generation of firefighters’ suit and pieces of equipment will strongly contribute to European policy objectives and strategies. The new market opportunities will arise in the area of PPE. Issues such as fires and other hurricanes etc. will probably be much more frequent due to climate change and will need more rescue specialists well equipped to protect populations and their health also.

In addition, by bringing experts from different countries, sectors and disciplines together to focus their efforts in innovative e-textile product designs, ETEXWELD enhanced industry-academia cooperation in terms of research training and knowledge-sharing. Transfer of knowledge and research culture in the area of e-textiles will lead to greater integration across European and worldwide groups that work in related projects, by strengthening current collaborations and creating new ones. This will not only help to develop future generations of entrepreneurial researchers more capable of contributing effectively to the knowledge-based e-textile research area within and between public and private sectors, but also add to the inter-sectoral and trans-national employability of these researchers as well as to the attraction of young people to a research career on textile/electronics areas.