Manufacturers are finding new ways to enhance product performance with textiles.
As the demands made on textiles have increased, the nature of what is defined as “textile” has greatly expanded, often including non-textiles or treating them in a textile manner. Hybrids that bring together different materials and processes can offer the benefit of conventional textiles with additional characteristics of materials such as glass, ceramic, wood or even stone. The attributes that textiles bring to these materials in turn range from flexibility, additional performance characteristics and aesthetics. Architects and the building industries are amongst the earliest adopters, but applications are also being found in medical, industrial and product design.
Integrating textiles with non-textiles
Textiles and glass have long been compatible in buildings with a textile offering shade from sunlight, providing privacy and protection against thermal loss through glass windows. Conventionally, they are located inside a building, but more recent advances have seen them positioned on the exterior as well. But the next iteration is a more integrated product, generally achieved by sandwiching a textile between two layers of glass.
The French company Saint-Gobain AG has a well established reputation in the production of glass fiber and textiles as well as sheet glass. In their new product TEX GLASS, these two materials are brought together to form a decorative laminated glass, using textiles from Nya Nordiska. The laminated extra-clear DIAMANT® glass forms the outermost layers; these are followed by two sheets of EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) film on either side of the decorative textile.
The fabric element is both decorative and functional, filtering around 99 percent of ultraviolet light offering protection for colored textiles, artwork and furnishings impacted by the sun’s rays. The toughened, hardened or annealed glass is suitable for a range of applications such as room dividers, shower doors and display windows.
Coming from a different perspective, the Swiss company Sefar is also combining glass with textile. Their architecture fabrics offer weather protection and light diffusion and embedded electroluminescence for ambient lighting within textiles.
SEFAR® Architecture’s VISION has emerged from a different tradition in textiles for industrial filtration, screenprinting, e-textiles and architecture membranes. Layered between two sheets of glass, the fabric interlayer is coated on one side with a 60 nanometer layer of gold. Intended for facades and curtain walls, the result is a highly transparent material on one side to provide uninhibited views looking out of the building. From the exterior it provides a brilliant, eye-catching effect in thee standard metals (gold, aluminium and copper) or in a Pantone color digitally printed (plain or with patterns or company logos) using UV-stable inks.
The company offers a choice of plain or twill weave in a number of apertures, depending on the desired light transmission. The final glass hybrid can be installed using louver or fin systems. It is being used in a number of buildings including the Swiss Railway Main Office Building in Bern Wankdorf, designed by architects Lussi + Halter Partner AG. The façade is covered in moveable slats with five metallic colors providing a range of optical effects and weather reflections, as solar shade functionality is combined with visual aesthetics.
The textile treatment for non-textiles
Treating materials such as ceramic, wood and stone in a textile manner can imbue them with characteristics not possible in conventional processes. New Jersey-based Sommers Plastic Products Co. Inc. develops and produce a range of plastics and vinyls with dramatic special visual and tactile qualities. Sports footwear, apparel and accessories are key markets which help to direct innovation towards emerging fashion trends, as well as technologies.
The company has developed a series of slate, wood and textile hybrid materials. On the surface these carry the appearance—the veneer—of their non-textile element. But their qualities include textile elements of flexibility and most importantly stitchability, so that they can be used like a fabric. Historically, plastics were a material that developers used to make lower-cost alternatives to natural fibers. Now some in the industry, such as Sommers, are helping to preserve natural materials and give them added capability so that designers can use them in new ways.
The technique of combining ceramic with foam is attracting the interest of industrial and product design markets for different reasons. In Europe the Czech company Lanik is producing ceramic foam filters under the trade name Vukopor. The filter has an open, three-dimensional structure with a system of interconnected ‘cells’ offering very good thermal conductivity, stability and resistance to any sudden changes in temperature. These are used for metal, particularly aluminium, filtration where they help to preserve the metallurgical purity of the molten metal during the casting process.
The 3D printing contribution
The rapidly growing area of 3D printing has seen the development of a great many materials with structures that would not be possible using conventional means. This includes bringing lightweight, textile qualities to harder materials such as ceramics.
Researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a technique for 3D printing ceramic foam ink for applications that include tissue scaffolds and lightweight structures.
Based on biomimicry, the ceramic structure is comprised of closed-cell porous struts formed to a hexagonal pattern using a process of direct foam writing. The bubbles contained in the ink are stabilized by attractive colloidal particles that are suspended in an aqueous solution so that the 3D printed and sintered ceramic foam honeycomb has a low relative density and greater, more controllable stiffness than other additive manufacturing processes. Ceramic has been used for the initial research testing, but the researchers see that the same process could be used for other materials, such as polymers and metals.
Hybrid materials are going through an evolutionary process that is being defined in part by technology, but also with a more open approach to finding solutions and to the process of innovation itself. Textiles in industry, research institutes and academia are all a part of this ongoing process.
Marie O’Mahony is an industry consultant, author and academic. She the author of several books on advanced and smart textiles published by Thames and Hudson and Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Art (RCA), London.