Textiles with advanced features are classified as smart textiles. These include thermally functional cooling/heating fabrics, functionlised yarns where mechanical properties can be designed into the fabric post weaving, , self-cleaning fabrics which drastically reduce the requirements of detergents and water for cleaning (smart and green), odour removal and intelligent garments, for example with features that allow dosed release of medicinal compounds for absorption by the body.
Additionally, the development of technologies related to information such as electronics for wireless sensing and communication have led to visions of making textiles and garments more functional from an information gathering and display perspective. As a first step some of the features which can be ‘programmed’ by the wearer could be features such as brightness and colour using principles of structural light, where the control of reflectivity determines colour such as in a passive liquid crystal display, rather than the traditional pigment dyeing.
Research done at SLINTEC
With the aim of being one of the leading destinations globally for technology enhanced textiles, SLINTEC has been successful in building expertise and IP through research over the past three years. Part of the research focus has been on developing practical solutions to problems faced by the local textile industry. Some of this research was funded through and undertaken in collaboration with major textile and garment manufacturers such as MAS, Brandix and Hirdaramani.
Nano coatings on textile materials
Textile fiber and fabric modification with nano materials open up number of new application areas as the method produces a route to functionalization of conventional materials with new properties carried by the nanomaterials. At SLINTEC, research has been aimed at imparting functionalities such as self-cleaning, odor removal, superhydrophobicity (self-cleaning), UV blocking ability, IR reflectivity, moisture management, etc. New and efficient ways of binding these nanomaterials to fibers has been a key focus of the research.
Efficient textile processes to save water, energy and chemicals
The textile dyeing and finishing industry is one that is very water, energy and chemical intensive. SLINTEC has engaged in research focusing on developing efficient textile processes utilizing novel methods such as ultrasonic activation and binding.
Responsive textile materials
External stimuli responsive materials are a key strategic area in the textile industry. At SLINTEC, research has been carried out in developing materials that can undergo elastic modulus enhancement upon application of an external stimulus.
Mainly as strategic research program targeting the exploitation of the many favorable properties of nanofibers and utilizing them in practical applications. An example of this is the development of a chitosan based nanofiber to enhance moisture transfer in textiles.
Building on the existing base knowledge and IP, SLINTEC will focus on two key areas of research with strategic significance in future textiles. They are Textiles for water and energy conservation and Textiles for wellbeing.
Water and energy will be one of the most challenging problems world has to face in years to come. Therefore we will focus on new innovations that can help preserve water and energy at both ends of the textile chain: manufacturing process and consumer ownership.
The textile industry is considered one of the most polluting industries, since it uses a number of water, energy and chemical intensive processes. Novel process developments can help bring down the amounts of water, energy and chemical usages improving environmental sustainability while at the same time increasing profit margins.
1) Textiles for Wellbeing
Textiles must be improved to protect wearers from conditions such as overexposure to UV or excessive heat retention and fluid loss. The focus of research carried out will be to enhance comfort as well as providing wellbeing related functionalities in terms of both protection as well as real time information through sensing.
What follows are the key areas of Smart Textile Technologies, which the research program will address and create IP.
i) Thermal management fabrics
The aim is for these fabrics to provide the wearer with much cooler conditions in summer and much warmer condition in winter. At SLINTEC a fabric capable of reflecting IR radiation (heat) through nanotechnology has been demonstrated. The research program would aim to develop this to stage which makes it feasible for commercial evaluation and subsequently production.
ii) UV blocking fabrics
Over exposure to UV will cause sun burns, skin cancers, premature aging and also DNA damage. This is likely to make UV blocking fabric a special purpose requirement but also highly desirable/essential for day to day wear. SLINTEC has developed a UV blocking fabric with Nanotechnology. Laboratory tests confirm that the UV blocking property remains for several wash cycles and that the treatment does not change the fabric color or texture. The development and commercialization of this base research through suitable manufacturing protocols/methods with industrial partners will be undertaken as part of the future program.
iii) Anti-microbial fabrics
This area covers a large number of fabric types like under garments, hospital bed covers, wheel chair cushion covers, etc. Currently there are anti-bacterial fabrics available. But the problem is that the anti-bacterial agents in the fabric can kill friendly bacteria as well. Research will focus on overcoming this problem.
iv) Neutraceutical fabrics
Fabrics which release herbal essences in order to obtain properties like moisturizing, antimicrobial, anti-odor and other cosmetic effects will be the thrust of research in this area. The Word Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 80% of the world’s population, presently use herbal medicine for some aspect of primary healthcareand this demand is projected to increase in the future. SLINTEC aims to develop fabrics that contain neutraceuticals either by modifying the yarn or by modifying the fabric at the washing stage.
2) Textiles for Water and Energy Conservation
i) Water and energy conservation in garment production
We at SLINTEC aim to contribute to this global quest in the sector which is predominant in terms of Sri Lanka’s exports, garments, and vicariously its engagement with the global economy. Current textile wet processing consumes an excessive amount of water and heating energy. Additionally the issues of water purification, recovery of toxic dyes and finding the most effective method for disposing the dye waste is not only a technical challenge but a cost burden. This is a an area in which SLINTEC with all the major stake holders will engage in to develop solutions and IP which give ‘Sri Lanka Inc.’ a globally competitive advantage through its future research programme.
ii) IR reflective covering materials
The invention of Infrared reflective covering materials (as window curtains) allows to reflect the radiation form the sun which will reduce the energy requirement for cooling systems inside buildings where by effectively contribute toward energy saving.
SLINTEC through its initial investment from the two leading apparel exporting companies in Sri Lanka concentrated resources and intellectual capital into the area of Smart Textiles. After three years of active research and engagement with the major stakeholders who are globally connected at the ‘leading edge’; SLINTEC has developed a world class national resource in Smart Textiles. A key feature of this expertise is that it is independent of any one stakeholder and available as a true national resource.