By Hannes Hertrich, Senior Mechanical Engineer, and Stephannie Kia, Soft Goods Designer
With a thriving and growing list of projects in the soft goods space, our team took a trip to Atlanta, Georgia for the Techtextil show. In its fifteenth run, Techtextil is devoted to the holistic technical textile industry, from raw materials to production processes to new technologies. The show took place from May 22-24 at the Georgia World Congress center with over 150 exhibiting companies. Techtextil seeks to bring innovative ideas and collaborating among industry leader, new opportunities to develop material and machine partnerships, all while representing diverse product groups across the production of technical textiles. That certainly gave our team a lot to absorb and bring back to Priority Designs for new opportunities. Steph, Sherry and Hannes each walked the show, finding a unique perspective for today’s landscape of materials sourcing, partnerships and wearables. Overwhelmingly, our team returned with their eyes on new possibilities being offered by the industry.
We’ve noticed a trend ramping up in the world of soft goods for custom fit fashion groups, the prototype developer, and others that need a small quantity of yarn or a single piece of equipment. For several years, many yarn companies would only sell high quantities of yarn in over 20 cones. Selling small quantities, even for a prototyping purpose leading to manufacturing, was met with unwillingness. But, with the help of startup companies like, Kniterate (desk top knitting machine), Knitic (Arduino alteration to any Brother, Singer, or other programmable table top machines), and the future ease of 3D knitting for the product designer the landscape is changing. Material sourcing is changing to accommodate the needs of smaller quantities and testing.
With help from Carnegie Mellon, 3D knitting is becoming more streamlined with the use of a program that was developed to transform 3D CAD meshes (point cloud) into code direction for 3D knitting. Yarn providers are now looking at companies like us, product designers, as a source for reducing the overrun waste and a helping to demonstrate the capabilities of their latest and greatest yarns. Opportunities to source and test new, unique materials are increasing quickly.
One of the unique materials, called GlideWear, provides a low-abrasion solution for wearable products that lay against skin. The material is dual-ply, and activated after a water-soluble adhesive is rinsed out. When the material is rubbed, it glides smoothly protecting from chafing, blisters, and calluses. Ideal for sensitive skin, this material has a variety of application possibilities in sporting goods, medical products, and apparel. GlideWear is just one example of companies who are developing very targeted, niche textiles that are available in small quantities. The growth in material innovation, and increasing accessibility for all quantities leads to vast opportunities. The challenge lies in knowing intricate details of a wide and specialized industry.
"Yarn providers are now looking at companies like us, product designers, as a source for reducing the overrun waste and a helping to demonstrate the capabilities of their latest and greatest yarns."
The TechTextil show provided exposure to the industry’s massive push for partnerships. The merging of different world can be segmented out into two distinct categories: cooperation between existing textile companies, and the joining of textile-impartial industries with soft-goods.
Inter-textile cooperation was most apparent when traveling to the co-sponsored Stoll / Myant booth. Stoll, a pioneer of digital knitting, has joined hands with Myant, a one-stop R&D/Manufacturing resource, in order to offer up an end-to-end solution for textile innovation and production. Together, they make the machines, design the products, program the machines, and manufacture on any scale. The big takeaway of this merger is the bridge of communication hurdles between designers, suppliers, manufactures, and quality assurance that historically, may have been the cause to lengthen and occasionally cancel projects altogether.
Another textile partnership is EFI and Alvanon with their latest Optitex offering. By teaming up with Alvanon, the go-to source for dress forms and sizing/fit solutions, EFI is offering up much needed, expansive 3D CAD software for textile development. Such a platform has the potential to revolutionize the industry in the way that Solidworks did for hardgoods (plastics and metals).
From the standpoint of mechanical engineering, the external industries’ push for involvement in the textile world are the most impressive. The impact these merging partnerships is having can be seen in the transportation and aerospace industry. These industries’ continuous improvement methodology and relentless push for lighter, faster, more efficient solutions has driven a large-scale shift from plastics and metals to composites and textiles. Such a shift has demanded new manufacturing equipment and techniques to be developed. One such innovation is ZSK’s use of a modified embroidery machine to act like a 3D printer for complex composite weaves and inlayed electrical systems. Another example is, the use of a post-bed sewing machine mated to 6-axis robotic arms for single operation, fabric wrapped, large complex surfaced components. New techniques like these are allowing customizable automation to be accomplished for things we never thought were possible.
With computing entering the quantum scale and 5G connectivity on the verge of global release, we are beginning to see a lot of on-body, non-intrusive computing and sensing going on. Mated with the development of made-to-order custom fit garments and electrically conductive yarns, the possibilities for the sports and medical industries are seemingly endless. Fitness trackers, preventative health analysis, lifesaving equipment, climate controlled and energy producing garments; the list goes on and on. The future looks bright for the development of integrated, connected garments.
What if your garment could detect your body’s vital state and administer medical assistance? Or sense your body temperature dropping and trigger a warming element in your very clothes? These far out ideas are the type of forward thinking and development that was witnessed in the world of wearables. TechTextil displayed how fashion and technology are colliding worlds and that the modern consumer is expecting an interactive and personal experience. Garments are no longer just a way to cover the human form, or means of aesthetic expression, but are becoming a “Smart” tool which can interact with the user and provide feedback. Vendors all over the globe have noticed the opportunities wearable technologies can offer and have developed new materials, manufacturing processes and products for industry professionals to dream about.
As textile production becomes more automated and engineered, so does the output of products. An example of how textiles are becoming more sophisticated was seen at the Stoll and Shima Seiki knitting machine booths. These seamless knitting machines displayed a variety of wearable garments that included conductive yarns and integrated sensors for a functional application which can be applied to military, sporting goods, and medical industries. For the medical industry specifically, there is a push find ways to improve the comfort and compliance in medical wearables. For example, the Shima Seiki booth displayed a conductive heated garment that seamlessly in-layed tubular conduction elements. This garment had very few internal seams, and laid smooth against the body, all while providing technological feedback. Maybe this type of garment could help prevent instances of hypothermia or even cool the body down. The partnered Myant/Stoll booth also showed the possibility of how undergarments can become a new platform for collecting data on an individual’s health and comfort. The Skiin garments demonstrated how clothing has a chance to improve the persons quality of life by providing information to help individuals become more educated about their own health.
With the endless design opportunities offered by digital patterning programs, knitting and raw materials also opens up the chance for customization to product. Customization was represented in a few ways at the Techtexil show, such as creating unique virtual avatars to fit and develop pattern pieces demoed by Optitex, knitting personalized gloves seen from NC State, and developing customized innovative materials for wearable devices from Convestro. Overwhelmingly, many companies stated that they are capable of making whatever the customer needs. Since the wearables business plays in many different industries, it is necessary to develop products that can be customized to the end use. With, Optitex you can adjust the size of your human avatar to represent the user. This means you can create an avatar that represents a realistic customer in our society and can adjust things like, girth, height, and posture. Industries are seeing and realizing the need to become more inclusive to meet the customization needs of the developer and the diverse customer population.
With the growth seen at the TechTechtil show this year makes us hopeful that this is just the beginning of what’s to come in sourcing for customization, innovative technologies, and developing wearables. Each year there are more vendors represented at the show and more innovative advances in machines, materials and ideas. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and the shifts in the industry continue to open up new possibilities.
When Sherry joined the PD team, there were only 3 others. Over 20 years and 50 people later, she’s still with us! Excelling in concept sketching, she has heavily contributed to design in the sports industry, especially golf. A sports enthusiast herself, in 2004 she was invited to try out for the U.S Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team.
Our staff “MacGyver” and a talented engineer with a woodworking and automotive background. Hannes enjoys finding solutions to complex problems while working within a very tight box. When the “pressure is on” and the constraints are many, he’s the guy!
Stephannie has a true passion for textiles in and out of the office. She specializes in knitting and cut-and-sew development as well as building tech packages and pattern making as part of our soft goods team. Outside the office, if she’s not sewing or going to yoga, she’s enjoying decorating her home and organizing any space that she can.