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Smart textiles are becoming technology’s supermodels

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Your style of dress says something about you. But can your wardrobe include your clothing say something to you? Soon, it may—because smart textiles are making it possible for the items in your closet to increase your athleticism, monitor your health, and even save your life. And that will make the phrase “smart outfit” more meaningful than fashionistas ever imagined.

What makes these fabrics so clever? Smart textiles are manmade fibers interwoven with nanotechnology and organic electronics. Their built-in sensors give them the “brains” necessary to recognize changes in our bodies’ vital signs or other physical conditions and transmit that information so we can act on it.

For example, in spring 2017, a smart sock will hit the market to help people with diabetes monitor inflammation in their feet to warn them of health problems while they’re still in an early, manageable stage. And next year, in 2018, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques will be testing a smart shirt during his International Space Station mission. The shirt and its companion software will make it possible to conduct remote monitoring of his blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, heart and breathing rates, skin temperature, sleep quality, and activity levels.

It’s exciting to follow news of these advances and consider their potential to deliver benefits across many sectors. From health care and fitness to the military and professions in which people work under extreme conditions, smart textiles can help us to be healthier and more productive in our daily activities.

We’re still at the early stages of discovering the full potential of these phenomenal fibers, but their game-changing potential is already clear. In fact, these emerging developments were hailed in the September 2016 report Smart Textiles and Wearables: Markets, Applications and Technologies as “a fourth industrial revolution for the textiles and fashion industry.”

The market potential is as impressive as the innovation. Grand View Research, Inc. projects that the global market for smart textiles and smart fabrics will grow from US$ 544.7 million in 2015 to US$ 9.3 billion by 2024. Its study predicted that the growth drivers would be strongest in sports, fitness, military, and defense. Each has a high demand for the water and stain resistance, UV protection, and anti-bacterial properties that smart textiles also deliver.

Smart textile innovation starts right at the beginning of the value chain – from the fabrication and manufacturing of suitable fabrics. Companies that create underlying technologies will play a major role in moving products from concept to commercialization, accelerating speed to market, and promoting supply chain sustainability. Progress on the manufacturing side enables the integration of textiles and technology. Equally important, it promotes improvements in efficiency and productivity that translate to reduced marketing costs, which will help to ensure that people who need these innovations will have affordable access to them.

That is why companies like Oerlikon actively track how textile markets are developing and what customers will need not only today but in the future. “There’s nothing more rewarding than collaborating with our customers on new and advanced plants that pave the way for extraordinary products,” says André Wissenberg, Head of Marketing, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs of Oerlikon’s Segment Manmade Fibers.

Of course, their “cool factor” is an added bonus. Smart textiles are the fabric of the future, and that future is nearer than you may have imagine

Under the brands Oerlikon Barmag and Oerlikon Neumag, Oerlikon offers complete solutions for new, innovative textile machinery used to manufacture and finish manmade fibers. These products set industry standards for productivity, energy efficiency, and flexibility, and they help textile producers to respond more effectively to the challenges posed by shorter and shorter time-to-market cycles.

By Randy B. Hecht

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