30/03/2020 – When the “second skin” goes electronic — auf Deutsch lesen

How are smart textiles actually developed?

Although it is still pie in the sky, the next decade will see key smartphone functions integrated in people’s second skin. An interview with Lunative.


Smart textile applications for workwear © Lunative


Achim Pörtner: Responsible for strategic product development at Lunative © Lunative


We are talking here about smart clothing, which can interact either automatically or by touch with surrounding devices. textile network spoke to Achim Pörtner, head of development at Lunative, Europe’s leading force in smart textiles technology.

textile network: Mr Pörtner, what is the best way for textiles and electronics to come together?

Achim Pörtner: Smart textiles are a new, highly promising market that is potentially worth billions and is making new demands on innovation. After all, for this pioneering product to work, two completely different industries need to join forces. The typical mindset of the electronics world and the best electronics aren’t necessarily what smart textiles developments need. Why? Because we have to bend to a whole host of restrictions governed by the final textile product, the main ones being flexibility, stretch, miniaturisation, modularisation and washability. Even simplification – the idea of leaving out features – with a view to optimising the usability of a development plays an important role right from the outset. When it comes to electronics in textiles, our experience has shown that it’s not about aiming for the principle of “higher, faster, further and more power”. The more interesting electro-technical challenges lie in the field of sensor technology, corresponding sensor components and in paving the way for the Internet of Things in textiles (wireless communication elements that would make sense in textiles).

textile network: Are you directly involved in the process of shaping ideas?

Achim Pörtner: As a “one-stop” partner, we at Lunative develop pertinent smart solutions for individual needs based on our own “Smart Light Wear Technology” and on a wide range of smart components, conductive textiles and new production technologies. Using a smart, interactive workwear glove as an example, it’s possible to demonstrate why starting collaboration at the inception of an idea really makes sense: The concept for the glove was initially defined purely in terms of electro-technology – so without user guidance and without the functions that workers wearing the glove would deem important from a non-technical perspective. This key aspect of embedding the new product in an industrial and logistical setting was quite simply forgotten during the first, primarily technical conception phase. There was also no mention of wearing trials, something we regard as an absolutely essential part of product development.

textile network: So, the user aspect has to be included from the start?

Achim Pörtner: Exactly, if this is ignored then the tool itself will fail to reflect the user’s needs. When, where and for how long does the worker need the glove? What concomitant effects does the glove have before, during and after wearing? For which processes does the sensor technology prove most supportive and in which areas is the new tool more of a hindrance? These are questions that have to be asked in advance and in the context of the technical, mechanical and IT processes. They are just as important as the simple questions such as: How often does the glove have to be cleaned? How frequently should the batteries be charged? Not to mention the very varied needs of different user groups ...

textile network: What is the direction of travel for workwear with e-textiles?

Achim Pörtner: At the recent A+A trade fair in Düsseldorf, we showed protective equipment and applications with smart light-based communication capabilities for the following scenarios: In poor visibility and darkness, the workwear lights up automatically or else the lighting changes. When entering “no-go areas”, parts of the workwear give off a light signal that means: Do not proceed! In the third scenario, the protective workwear communicates with staff or the work environment intelligently and independently. Over the next decade, we can certainly expect to see the main smartphone functions integrated in our textiles: they will be flexible and washable. Basic meta functions such as on/off, up/down, confirm/reject etc will be carried out via our workwear. A classic smart device will only be needed for more detailed commands. From an energy point of view, the next five to ten years will see us move towards autonomous systems.

textile network: How would you describe your line of work?

Achim Pörtner: As a technology pioneer, we are specialists in light, sensor technology, communication and actuator engineering for textiles and we are working with our customers on pretty sophisticated projects that integrate five or six different functionalities in and on the textile. Staying with PPE and workwear for a moment, the workwear of the near future will light up (when required), measure, create a comfortable climate, provide information, communicate and/or share parameters – from worker to worker, from on-site worker to foreman/woman or to the control centre. Our “Luna Light Wear Technology”, which we have researched and developed in the space of three years, is at the heart of this interactive clothing. This technology can automatically indicate, for example, sensor data, overheating or excessive gas concentrations through light-based communication on the clothing.

textile network: Is industrial digitalisation the next great challenge for smart textiles?

Achim Pörtner: The human second skin is increasingly edging onto the radar of industrial digitalisation. Everything linked to 4.0 can be captured digitally: machines, devices, vehicles, products. The only aspects that haven’t been included so far are people and their clothing. In the context of industry 4.0 for warehousing and logistics, smart textiles are all about optimising processes; this is also the case when it comes to delivering goods to the customer. Another exciting application for interactive jackets at the interface between 4.0 and IoT, are security zones at big chemicals companies. In future, staff will be able to identify themselves at so-called “soft” barriers by means of intelligent clothing.

Mr Pörtner, many thanks for talking to us!

The questions were asked by Hans-Werner Oertel on behalf of textile network.