You might think that after several years of attending the Advanced Textiles Association’s Expo, it would be pretty repetitious, but I can assure you, it’s really not. Since I work in a market area (emerging technologies) that’s always changing (and expanding, I might add), there are always new technologies, new people, new products and new stories to tell.
This year, the frustration with overcoming certain advanced technologies’ challenges was almost palpable. Everyone wants to either find the solution or be the solution that gets us over the next mountain in today’s emerging and most exciting textile and fiber technologies. Speakers went after challenges in a way that was unusually aggressive. We are, in the industry, at that point. That point … the one where we either succeed or what has been accomplished up to this point will languish and never realize its potential. That’s unthinkable.
I’m talking about smart materials, e-textiles, wearables. I remember a time when the biggest challenge in e-textiles and wearable applications was getting beyond wires, essentially, being woven among the fibers to make an e-textile in the first place. Actually, I remember getting to that point, as well. We now have conductive inks and various conductive fibers produced using novel technologies. Great! Now what?
Well, in the big picture, integrating power and connectivity directly into the fibers of a textile is the next big “want” in this market segment. Power … as in no “batteries.” Right now, e-textile products have a small “puck” that provides power and connectivity that makes the product “smart.” These pucks, while not very big, are hard, and have to be removed before washing. Not a big deal, you might think, but it is a very big deal, and the smart textile products industry isn’t having it.
There are indeed smart textiles and commercialized applications, but not nearly on the scale that is possible when current challenges are overcome. That, and a price that meets a market tipping point.
Nobody said this was going to be easy, but the stories I covered at this year’s ATA Expo spring from the imagination and initiative of people who are not dissuaded by challenges, and that’s my takeaway this year. There were Expos where there were more whiz-bang exhibitors and presentations, but I don’t remember this level of straight talk across the board, and it was downright exciting.