Some of the initial buzz has waned, but large companies are investing heavily in the technology and giving us a glimpse of what may be ahead.
Researchers at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, Donghua University in Shanghai, and Nanjing Forestry University in Nanjing, China have developed nonwoven nanocomposite textiles that are electrically conductive, flexible, and breathable. Instead of inserting metal wires into finished textiles, the scientists modified classical electro-spinning. These materials could be used to produce comfortable, high-tech clothes that convert sunlight to warmth, supply wearable electronic devices, or contain sensors for fitness training. Dr. Andreas Greiner, professor and chair of Macronuclear Chemistry II at the University of Bayreuth, believes nonwoven textiles could be used in the upholstery of cars or airplanes. The scientists published their findings in the journal npj Flexible Electronics.
Smart Labels Can Communicate, Too!
The fabric isn’t the only part of a garment that can connect to the IoT. For example, brands can incorporate RFID (radio-frequency identification) and NFC (near field communication) technology into their tags and labels to give each piece of clothing a unique digital identity. The NFC capabilities can help apparel buyers find lost products, order replacement garments, access garment-care instructions, or learn whether the garment was manufactured in an ethically responsible way.
Avery Dennison has teamed up with the smart products platform Evrythng to make more than 10 billion items of clothing and accessories connected to the IoT. Avery Dennison’s Janela Smart Products enable apparel and footwear brands to have a unique, serialized label. The Evrythng platform manages the digital identity and data.
Nike’s NBA-Connected jerseys have authentication NFC tags embedded in a woven label near the hem of the garments. Users of the NikeConnect app can tap the label with their smartphone to access premium content about their favorite teams and players.
Slowly but surely, e-textiles are moving out of R&D labs and into public forums such as expositions and commercialization conferences.
For example, the Wear 2018 Conference (June 11-13) in New York is an event that brings together people from the textile and electronics industries to discuss the business of wearable technology, material innovations, smart clothing, and consumer experience. Session presenters will discuss how smart fabrics can be used in medical, military, occupational safety, athletics, consumer fashion, automotive, and architectural interior applications.
Printed Electronics USA (November 14-15) in Santa Clara, California runs concurrently with other IDTechEX conferences that can help you understand what’s happening in e-textiles, wearable sensors, graphene, the IoT, energy harvesting and storage, and 3D printing. Exhibitors at the 2017 show not only included textile manufacturers, but also makers of inks, equipment, and coatings for producing printed electronics.
Many observers agree that a lot of the R&D surrounding smart clothing is less about gimmicks and more about practical functions that improve the quality of life or save time, money, or lives.
According to a 2018-2022 forecast published by Technavio, the global e-textile market is expected to grow at a CAGR of around 25 percent. In 2017, the global e-textile market was dominated by the military and defense segment, which is exploring ways to reduce the weight of batteries and other equipment carried by solders. Revenues from the military segment accounted for over 26 percent of the overall market.
ABI Research forecasts that the smart clothing market will top 31 million device shipments annually by 2022, up from just under 5 million in 2017. Their analysts note that “While smart clothing has yet to reach mass market appeal, the industry is continuing to grow within the sports, fitness, and wellness markets.”
“Vendors need to ensure that their products have rock-solid use cases and their device’s features target specific verticals and applications,” says Ryan Harbison, research analyst at ABI. “For instance, the Google and Levi’s Commuter Trucker jacket is one of the most exciting new products within this market, but it is targeted at a very specific niche market – the urban bike commuter. Vendors should focus on continuing to create targeted, consumer-centric applications while also developing enterprise applications to give this market wider appeal.”
Read more from the April/May 2018 issue.
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