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Thermal regulation heats up

Features | May 22, 2017 | By:

Ettlin continues to refine its 3D LED lighting panels, offering additional qualities of transparency and thermal control for indoor and outdoor architectural applications. Photo: Marie O’Mahony.

Refined materials and improved processes impact climate control applications.

New developments in climate control for technical textiles are seeing the emergence of more refined materials offering enhanced possibilities in a range of industries from automotive to architecture. At the TechTextil trade show in Frankfurt, Germany, in May, a number of these innovations were showcased, reflecting in particular the growing interest in multifunctional, e-textile and environmentally friendly solutions.

The German manufacturer Ettlin has developed a range of unique three-dimensional LED lighting panels to create dramatic optical effects for architectural interiors. They started as a small-scale panel, but have now increased in scale and design flexibility.

Their most recent developments take into account the need for multi-functionality in building materials. The company has moved beyond the Etlin Trans –Proof LED lighting effects associated with the brand and now offers climate control and weather resistance. This new iteration allows for transparency alongside sun protection to reduce UV radiation. The material offers protection against the buildup of humidity and allows for a high level of air permeability. Applications extend beyond architecture and building interiors to include potential uses in automotive interiors.

Automotive applications

In the automotive industry, thermal control products protect both the vehicle and its occupants. The British company Heathcoat Fabrics Ltd. produces high-performance technical textiles for a number of industries including automotive. One of the challenges the company has addressed is in providing protection coupled with elasticity. This is acknowledged as an issue in protective apparel, but can also be important in other product areas. Heathcoat first developed stretch fabrics for transmission belting almost 50 years ago. Today their product range includes textiles for synchronous belt tooth covering, flatside fabrics and micro-V belt fabrics.

Multifunctionality is almost a given in many automotive applications, as cars are a global product and have to function in extremes of environment and climate. The company’s Turbotec hose textile brand is resilient to extremes from below zero to more than 200°C.

Process matters

Some of the most innovative materials are offering not just high-performance benefits, but take into account the whole production process. Innotect GmbH, based in Germany, has developed InnoPAD_3L_SK, a glass fiber, heat-reflecting fabric with an aluminum laminate and a preox nonwoven. To make installation faster and more convenient, it is produced with a strongly adhesive lining that is also highly resistant to impact during its lifetime.

In North America the Kufner Textile Corp, headquartered in South Carolina, has developed an e-textile that offers the automotive industry a more efficient and uniform heated seat liner. Traditionally, a single conductive wire is used, but the company is using multiple wires to improve performance and allow the heated material to be positioned directly under the leather in the car seat. Importantly, it is produced at similar cost to conventional heated seat liners.

The Swiss manufacturer Schoeller® Textil AG, in cooperation with Eschler Technical Textiles GmbH of Germany, is also addressing the question of consistent heat distribution in e-textiles. E-soft-shell has as its basis Schoeller’s soft shell and corkshell technologies. These have been given a heatable laminate backing—manufactured by Eschler—that incorporates conductive yarns for uniform heat distribution. The resulting material can be dyed and also washed.

The issue of laundry care is an important one for the e-textile market, not just in automotive applications but in apparel and medical uses also. W. Reuter and W. Bälz & Sohn GmbH & Co., based in Germany, are focusing their expertise on specialist heating elements where distance is needed in the module. The company has the ability to produce individual layouts using a fine technical embroidery process. This insures that there are no unwanted contours and that this space in the module is completely optimized.

Wellman Int., with a manufacturing plant based in Ireland, has been at the forefront of developments in a closed-loop system for technical textiles. The company takes post-consumer waste and converts it into a range of fibers and fabrics for applications that include home and automotive. Initially concentrating on building and refining their closed loop system of operation, they are now developing more innovative technical products.

For the automotive industry, this includes High-Melt Crystalline fiber for acoustic and thermal insulation in car interiors. The material is very lightweight, and has a faster and more efficient mould cycle, offering benefits in the production cycle while being 100 percent recyclable. Isabel Camacho, technical services executive, sees the consumer as driving the demand for products that are both high performing and sustainable.

In Korea, Fabinno Co. Ltd. is focusing on healthier textiles with less impact on the environment and humans. Coolerene offers an alternative to PVC-based thermal insulation materials. The company uses a thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) with a silver or copper coating that can maintain a room temperature 10 °C warmer in winter and 10°C cooler in summer. This reduces the need for air conditioning and heating, saving on fuel costs and environmental impact, as well.

Custom choices

Customization is increasing, not just in performance but in aesthetics and customer-facing practices. In Germany, Sandler provides thermal insulation for applications that include walls, roofing and car seating. Customers can select printed, embossed or laminated fabrics. In car seat applications, additional comfort factors included are air permeability and moisture resistance in the nonwovens used. Its structure is also designed to contribute to the tactile and visual aesthetic beneath the final fabric or leather cover, contributing to the quality of the quilted drape in the finished seat.

Advances in digital technologies are helping to achieve these developments in performance, as well as in aesthetics and customization. Institutes like the Fraunhofer (ITWM) in Germany are “future-focused,” and currently working with a number of software developments such as GeoDict, which acts as a virtual material laboratory that enables users to create their own virtual material synthesis using computer-aided material engineering to import and process images to make 3D material models.

As communications among different stages of production become more streamlined, the consumer will expect greater choice and customization and not just at the high end. Henry Ford’s quip that the customer could have any color as long as it was black is very much a thing of the past.

Marie O’Mahony is Professor of Digital Futures at Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University, Toronto. She is the author of several books on advanced and smart textiles published by Thames and Hudson and is a member of the Canadian Smart Textile and Wearables Innovation Alliance (CSTWIA).

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