10.6.3.4 Current situation within the EU
10.6.3.4 Current situation within EU
The development of technical textiles is very dependent on the global economic climate, and given the current crisis, they are likely to grow less in the coming months. Nevertheless, the sector remains the most dynamic in the textile sector today in Europe.
It seems crucial that European businesses specialising in technical textiles should better identify the needs of the sector to support the efforts to grow and innovate, and to allow some businesses to begin the required transfer from “classical” textile and clothing products towards more technical, and therefore higher value added products.
As the technical textile industry is mostly made up of SMEs, who do not have sufficient resources for an intense R&D activity in house, it is important for public R&D structures to promoting links of collaborative research with industry. The European Technology Platform for the Future of Textiles and Clothing by 2020 plays an important role in this direction.
According to Euratex 2008 Annual Report, the technical textile industry will also have to increase its efforts to formulate European standards in order to define an adequate regulatory framework to assure a sustainable production that conforms to the wishes and needs of the consumers.
10.6.3.4.1 Medical/healthcare textiles
Europe holds an important position in this sector with companies active in UK (JR Nanotech), Ireland (Alltracell Pharmaceuticals), and Czech Republic (Elmarco/Nanopeutics). Important competitors in the rest of the world are located in Japan (Takeda Chemical Industries, Osaka), USA (Nanotech Institute, University of Texas, Dallas), Canada (Nucryst Pharmceuticals), South Korea (Chonbang Co.), and China (Fountain Set, Hong Kong).
10.6.3.4.2 Sport/outdoor textiles
The nanotechnology applications in sports/outdoor textiles see the USA as the clear leader. Important players in this sector are: Nike, Adidas, VF, New Balance, ARC Outdoor, W.L Gore Associates, NanoHorizons, Nano-Tex, GreenYarn. Active in Europe are, among others, textiles nanotechnology specialized companies such as Mectex (IT), P2i (UK), and Schoeller (CH). Other players in the rest of world include Thomson Research (Canada), Hyosung (South Korea), Suzutora (Japan), and NanoGroup Holdings (China).
10.6.3.4.3. EU Projects on Nanotechnology-related Textiles
In Europe, a large effort of research for the improvement of the technological content of textiles is represented by EU funded Projects. They are intended to ensure necessary financing for R&D, innovation, technology transfer, training for the textile-clothing sector, and also to promote a positive forward-looking image for this industry, which is too often wrongly viewed as a traditional declining sector.
Among others, the following projects have given a broad impulse to the textile sector modernization:
• LEAPFROG project has been finalized to modernize and ultimately transform the clothing sector into a demand-driven, knowledge-based, high-tech industry, by exploitation of recent advances in a broad area of scientific-technological fields ranging from nanotechnology and polymeric material science, robotics and innovative joining techniques, 3D computer graphics and animation, to e-business and management research. The result of such innovation is a new business potential across the entire spectrum of textile, clothing, machinery and service companies in Europe.
• The main objective of the AVALON project, concluded in 2009, has been the cross-sectoral development of novel hybrid textile structures integrating multifunctional Shape Memory Alloys (SMAs) and the related processing techniques as well as design, simulation and organisational methodologies.
• The eBIZ-TCF project, a 2-year cooperation project launched in January 2008 by the European Commission, has been finalised to boost e-business processes in the Textile/Clothing and Footwear (TCF) Industries.
With objectives more specifically focused on the medical/healthcare and sport sectors the following EU projects are aiming to realise the convergence of textiles, nanotechnology and electronics: WEALTHY project (concluded in 2005) and My Heart project (concluded in 2007) have been devoted to e realisation of smart textiles integrating sensors, electrodes and connections able to monitoring respiration, electrocardiogram, electromyogram, body posture and movement, and to tackle cardiovascular diseases [99, 100].
The opportunities for the above devices are not limited to the health sector, but also sport, leisure and fun are sectors able to take advantage of them.
Smart textiles have been also envisaged as aids to augment the sensory system of the skin, by sensing external stimuli, like proximity, touch, pressure, temperature and chemical/biological substances. That may be useful for patients affected by diabetes mellitus (reduced sensitivity of limbs) or bedridden (to reduce the occurrence of pressure ulcers) . The smart textiles provided with inherently conducting polymers (ICP), used for kinesthetic as physiological monitoring discussed for the sport application, may also be used for patient rehabilitation . The inherently conducting polymers, used as sensing devices, may be used also as actuators and configured as electrodes. By applying a potential the ICP electrode changes its dimension working as a mechanical actuator, and opening the way to the artificial muscles.
Today around fifteen European projects involve activities in the area of intelligent textiles, demonstrating that Europe has taken the lead in further developments in this area. Nevertheless only very few products are actually available on the market. This failure to transfer research results to the market, despite huge European interest in the field, has led to the formation of SFIT (Smart Fabric and Interactive Textiles; 2008-2011), a cluster grouping the EU Projects Context, Proetex, Sweet, Stella, Ofseth, Biotex and Clevertex, which takes advantage from the results produced by the concluded projects Wealthy and MyHeart.
In particular, the Stella project is looking to obtain stretchable electronics for garments capable of monitoring a variety of bodily during sports or everyday life. The Ofseth project is aiming at applications in oxymetry, a clever non-invasive way to measure the oxygen content of blood.
The Biotex project aims to measure the conductivity, electrolyte level, temperature and pH of users sweat, all enormously useful indicators for sporting applications. In addition, this project also is looking at monitoring wound healing by placing biosensors in contact with exudates present in wounds.
Dealing with the development of these technologies to the level of market entry, developers are looking preferentially to sporting applications; medical applications are very difficult to bring to market and require enormous validation efforts to ensure reliability in a medical setting.
Additionally, important European institutions are active with projects in medical nanotechnology-related textiles, including the Institut für Textiltechnik of RWTH Aachen University, which is developing a partly absorbable textile-foam-composite for small intestine replacement in collaboration with the Institute of Plastics Processing and the University hospital Aachen  and the Denkendorf Institute of Textile Technology and Processing Engineering, which is studying capillaries and fibres for the peripheral nerve regeneration .
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