What are e-textiles, how do they work and what are they for?
Understanding E-Textiles/Smart Textiles
What are E-Textiles?
Also known as smart textiles, e-textiles are fabrics that contain integrated technology. Such technology is electrical in nature, hence the name e-textiles. The birth of e-textiles has given rise to the concepts of wearable tech, that is, the generation of wearable tech after smartwatches. Technology that is woven through garments or otherwise to attached to it.
They are specially designed fabrics with components of an electronic nature woven into them in a specific way. Simply sticking a device onto a sweater doesn’t count as e-textiles. It needs to be integrated into the garment.
There are several different conceptual types of e-textiles. Garments that contain actual computing power and that can generate sound, light, or be used as a CPU are all being discussed within the market. You can also add battery power to textiles so you can end up wearing your phone battery, essentially allowing you to charge a phone using your t-shirt or other garment.
The industry as a whole and the wide range of concepts allow us to imagine a world where we can do so much more. Healthcare monitors, information, light, and battery power can be on our bodies wherever we go.
What Are Smart Materials in Textiles?
Smart materials are materials that can respond to their environment. The technology behind them varies greatly depending on the purpose, but the main smart textiles are designed with biomimicry or sensor technology in mind.
The definition of a smart material in the world of textiles is “any material designed and made to respond to environmental changes on its own”. They don’t require any input or intervention, they sense a specific stimulus and then perform an action.
Common types of smart materials include dyes that can change color based on the temperature and moisture-wick sports clothing. Photosensitive sensors or chemicals can be placed into clothing, allowing it to light up when exposed to certain stimuli.
There are many other different types of smart materials, with an endless list of potential benefits and applications within a wide range of sectors.
Smart materials do include e-textiles, as e-textiles are a specific branch of smart fabrics, but not all smart materials are e-textiles. Smart textiles usually don’t include any electronic devices and don’t have the circuits to produce energy. They are designed to react to something in a specific way.
How Are Smart Textiles Made?
There’s a lot of experimentation involved in making smart textiles. The industry itself is relatively new and innovations are made through experimenting with what works best.
The process behind making smart textiles begins the same way as any other product. The market is looked at to see if there’s a gap that can be filled, if there’s something that can be useful to a particular person or market.
The textile is then designed. First, a concept needs to be designed, meaning that the team behind it need to think about what they want the textile to do. Next, they need to decide how it’s going to do that.
Most smart textiles are made with sensors in them, or are designed to emulate nature in some way. The secret behind how they’re made is usually in the mathematical proofs that determine where to place sensors and other technology. The technology is usually designed separately with tandem use in mind.
Manufactured in specialist labs, smart textiles are then tested to ensure they do what they’re supposed to and that each component is safe. Due to the nature of them being a lot more than just normal textiles, the process can be lengthy.
What Are Smart Fabrics?
Smart fabrics are fabrics that are designed to respond in a certain way when certain conditions are met. The key defining factor of a smart fabric is that it can sense things, then process and react in a certain way.
Smart fabrics include a whole host of different technologies and are considered to be the future of fashion. They can be performance-enhancing, fashion-forward, communication-based, and can change color or temperature.
The possibilities are endless. A lot of smart fabrics emulate the animal kingdom, with moisture-wick technology designed to be similar to shark skin.
What Are The Different Types of Smart Fabrics?
There are several different types of smart fabrics. One of the most popular and well-known is fiber technology types. Fiber technology is a specially formulated and created fiber that reacts to certain stimuli and reacts. Classic examples are sportswear with moisture-wick technology and fabrics that can react to temperature by changing color.
Aside from the fiber itself, smart materials can contain sensors and technology that’s integrated into the material. Such things can be woven into the fibers.
AI, communication, nanotechnology, and chemistry can all be part of different types of smart fabrics. A common example is healthcare monitoring textiles that can read heart rate, blood pressure, and other statistics.
There are also performance-enhancing smart fabrics, information-gathering smart fabrics, and fabrics that are purely for aesthetic purposes (such as fabrics that light up).
Uses of E-Textiles/Smart Textiles
What Are The Applications of Smart Textiles?
Some of the most popular potential applications of smart textiles are in the medical sector. Smart textiles can be used to monitor respiratory rate and heartbeat, as well as for the delivery of treatments such as insulin or other medications.
Other applications include performance-enhancing textiles within the sports community, protective textiles for military applications, and everyday communications. They can also monitor activity levels and work like a health tracker.
How Are Smart Textiles Used in Healthcare?
The fact that e-textiles have the ability to track and submit signals, as well as the ability to perform actions based on stimuli, means that the healthcare sector has several applications for its use.
They can be used to measure cardiovascular output, breathing rates, and neurological functions, making them excellent diagnostic and research tools. They can also be used as preventative measures against certain events. We can measure 30 biological functions with e-textiles at present, all of which allow us to predict seizures, migraines, or heart attacks.
The healthcare sector can use e-textiles to prevent the need for as many doctors appointments as there currently are. This can be done by utilizing diagnostic sensors woven into the fabric. E-textiles can also let patients or nurses know when there’s a potential problem, such as when a person is dehydrated, is in distress, or needs an insulin injection.
The main applications at present are research and prevention, as well as warning. Tracking and full diagnostic ability are sure to come in the future.
Thoughts on E-Textiles/Smart Textiles
What Are The Advantages of E-Textiles?
The advantages of e-textiles are endless. From the convenience of having wearable technology that doesn’t require your input to do something, to the medical applications that could save lives.
E-textiles also have many advantages over classic wristband style fitness trackers. The data they collect is more accurate as the sensors often have direct contact with the skin. They can also detect and track stride lengths, breathing rate, heart rate, muscle mass, muscle oxygenation, muscle activity, and many other factors that traditional trackers either can’t track or don’t track accurately.
Smart clothing and e-textiles can also be used for communication between staff members within certain sectors. Medical, construction and other sectors would benefit from the instant communication offered by e-textiles. This new form of communication could increase safety and productivity.
E-textiles can also be more comfortable to wear than traditional clothing and offer functions that make consumers’ lives easier. From integrating smart home technology to control temperature, lights, music and other technologies. It would automatically save time, increase productivity, and generally increase happiness levels.
They can also keep us healthier and allow us to live longer, happier lives. From moisture-wicking, fitness tracking, medical application and treatment of minor burns and abrasions, to the UV protection and smart technology that allows us to control our environment automatically, they’ve all been designed to fulfill a need.
What Are The Disadvantages E-Textiles?
With any product comes a list of both pros and cons. As well as a whole host of advantages, e-textiles do also have some disadvantages that should be considered.
First of all, it’s complex. The way technologies are woven into the fabric, the way they’re designed and manufactured, and the way in which the intricacies of layers need to be applied. It’s a difficult thing to wrap your head around, but it’s not just about understanding it. The actual process of testing and creating e-textiles requires a lot of time. The complexities of how they need to be designed to fulfill the purpose they were made for can mean that companies can spend years or decades developing just one product, and it may not even work as they had hoped.
The next disadvantage is the cost. Traditional clothing can be made and sold relatively cheaply, especially synthetic fibers. However, the technologies that are being placed into the fabrics, including electrical systems, have to be done in a very specific way. Manufacturing the final product can cost a lot more than you might expect. It can cost hundreds of dollars, if not thousands.
The cost isn’t just about physically making it and putting it together; the man hours and research required all bulk up the cost. Testing, failures, and safety requirements can also make it more expensive than expected.
E-Textiles/Smart Textiles Industry
What Are Some E-Textile Companies?
There are dozens of players in the e-textiles market. Some are well-known companies who have decided to try their hand at e-textiles and some are specialist e-textile companies with a sole focus on e-textiles.
Some companies are more niche than others, with a handful of companies that dabble in the technology in general rather than manufacturing and selling clothing.
Some of the biggest name e-textile companies include sportswear companies such as Adidas. Adidas has developed fitness tracking technology and is a pioneer in the smart textile market with moisture-wicking clothing and other smart technologies.
Other companies include Vivo with their VivoSense analysis platform and Tommy Hilfiger with clothing containing smart chips. Hexoskin, DuPont, Umbra, ThermalTech, Myant, and Xenoma are also key players with recently announced current innovations within the e-textile industry.
What is The Market Size For Smart Textiles?
The increasing growth of smart technology such as smartphones creates a higher demand for e-textiles. The more technologically advanced and inclined we become, the more relevant e-textiles are. All of this culminates into a massive share of the textile market and some healthy predictions for market growth.
It’s estimated that, by 2025, the smart textiles market will be worth over $5 billion globally. The sector predicted to have the highest market share by that time is the military. With big budgets and many practical applications of smart textiles, the market may experience growth due to the adoption of such textiles by several key militaries.
The sports and fitness sector is thought to be the fastest-growing market, and has historically seen the highest CAGR. It’s predicted that this trend will continue up until 2025.
With several sectors, such as healthcare, fashion, beauty, home, lifestyle, and many more, there is a worldwide potential for greatness within the industry. Simply put, the more widely used it can be, the more it will be worth, and the applications of smart textiles are incredibly varied.