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UK firms lead the way in smart textiles and wearable electronics for use with iPods and mobile phone
Clothing textiles

UK firms lead the way in smart textiles and wearable electronics for use with iPods and mobile phone

Written by: Sam Anson

There are several UK-based companies which havesuccessfully integrated their smart technical textile technology into clothingand other consumer softgoods -- including bags and backpacks.

The most prominent companies in this field areAuxetix, d3o lab, Eleksen, Engineered Fibre Structures, EXO2, Fibretronic andPeratech. Many of these are small and were formed through close alliances withacademic institutions. Products made by three of these companies are beingdesigned to interface with software from Microsoft and iPod music players fromApple.

The companies products are being sold underwell known names with wide consumer appeal. Brands such as Berghaus, Burton, Ermenegildo Zegna, Kjus, Levi's, Nike, O'Neill, Quiksilver, Reusch, Ribcap, Rohan,Schoeffel, Spyder, The North Face and Tommy Hilfiger are all using smartfabrics and interactive textiles from UK firms.

Smart textiles cover a wide range oftechnologies. Individual categories include wearable electronics, heatconductive textiles, textile switches and shock absorbing fabrics.

Eleksen is one of the most commercially advancedUK-based companies in its field, and its impressive financial performance overthe last 24 months reflects its success. In the first half of 2006 its saleswere up by 622% compared with the corresponding period of 2005. Furthermore, ithas been forecast that Eleksen's sales will increase by as much as 168% in2007, while the capital employed to support this growth will rise by 165%.

Eleksen has been highly active in managing itspatent portfolio to protect its intellectual property. To date, the company hasbeen granted 30 patents, including 12 in the USA, which cover its coretechnology and applications. Moreover, it has a further 38 patent applicationspending, covering developments in soft switching and sensing technology.

Eleksen's components are used in a variety ofsegments, including consumer, industrial and military applications. Thecomponents are already employed in a wide range of end use products, such as interactive apparel, bags, backpacks and cases for entertainment andcommunications controls. The technology has also been incorporated intocomputer keyboards made from smart fabrics which can be rolled up and put inthe inside pocket of a jacket.

Smart fabrics and interactive textiles are beingused in a wide range of end uses, and the number of applications is growingrapidly.

* Textiles are being made from intelligentmolecules to protect against injury in sports. During natural body movement,the molecules flow past each other at low rates of cohesion. But in the eventof a sudden impact, the molecules instantaneously lock together to provide a protective barrier.

* Clothing is being designed with built-inswitches or joysticks to control equipment for electronic entertainment,particularly iPods. The key components are smart textiles which are sensitiveto pressure, and which can be stitched, stapled or glued.

* Researchers have developed a specialconductive yarn which can be woven into a textile to produce gloves forcontrolling computers, games consoles, machines and other electronic devicesremotely.

* A manufacturer in Scotland has developed aconductive polymeric yarn which can be knitted into a clothing fabric to keepthe wearer warm. The yarn heats up when a power source is applied, either froma battery or mains power.

* One company has developed textiles which canchange colour under tension. The materials are "auxetic" -- whichmeans they become fatter when stretched, unlike conventional flexiblematerials.

* Smart fabrics are also being designed to protect against terrorist bomb attacks by absorbing energy. The most common application of smartfabrics made in the UK has been in wearable electronic control systems. Successstems largely from strong growth in the market for iPods and other portableelectronic devices.


Intelligent fabrics are also being used in high performance sportswear. d3o lab's shock absorbing fabrics have been launched via alliances with a number of sportswear manufacturers for use in a range of applications -- including protective skiwear with integrated protective fabric at key contact areas (knees and elbows), motorcycle gloves, football gloves and shin pads, and protective headgear.

One challenge being faced by some of the more successful players is the rate at which they are able to raise additional capital in order to expand their production capacity and meet rapidly rising demand.

However, demand for smart textiles has grown so rapidly that a number of manufacturers have secured additional funding from private investors in 2006 and 2007 to expand their production capacities and further develop their technologies.

About the Author:

Smart Fabrics and Intelligent Textiles in the UK: Seven Companies at the Forefront of Innovation" was published by the global business information company Textiles Intelligence.
The report can be obtained from the AKTRIN Textile Information Center:

Web: Smart Fabrics and Intelligent Textiles in the UK

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