SmartX Europe, the European smart textiles accelerator, has launched a new manufacturing value chain map for the growing smart textiles industry.
The three-year acceleration platform for smart textile projects was piloted by a cluster of thirteen European partners from the textile and technology industries and supports 25 individual projects with a total budget of €2.4 million.
Its main objective was to build an engaged and connected community for the future of European smart textiles and to shape and establish the necessary industrial value chains.
The smart textiles value chain includes multiple players from three distinct industries: electronics, textiles, and ICT (information and communication technology). Therefore, cross-industry partnerships are needed because it is difficult to bring together skills, energies and strategies based on three very different industries, viewpoints and mindsets.
The analytical map aims to provide a clear view of the entire interactive model and identify current gaps that are slowing down or hampering the successful development of the European smart textiles industry.
There is no clear absence of any specific element, but rather a weakness in many of them that comes from the little history of collaboration between the three industries involved, explains the SmartX consortium. In addition, the still insufficient development of volume markets prevents most large enterprises which mainly provide equipment machinery, chemical and electronic components from spending much effort and investment in the production of smart textiles.
Technological breakthroughs are not what is mainly missing to allow the industry to shine in the global market. The ideas are there, the researchers and the patents too, but the movement is driven by start-ups and SMEs that have to deal with small series production and high costs. They serve a few main customers in specific market niches, have to work with adapted equipment and very limited automation and modified chemical formulations, and have to add the required new skills to the workforce.
There are, however, promising technological trends, such as the current development of flexible and organic low-power electronics, as well as the more automated integration of conductive elements into conventional textiles through knitting, embroidery or printing, which will achieve lower cost levels and more reliable quality, as well as better functional properties.
To meet the existing challenges, several very promising areas are opening up to the industry. Most important is the development of flexible electronics, which allows efficient connections between soft material substrates and hard metal components and the use of hybrid chip platforms – systems on a chip with low-power coprocessors. power – which result in significantly better performance. and user experience.
A major drawback that the industry has to deal with is the insufficient integration of marketing in a broad sense, developing unique selling propositions, identifying how and why the smart textile product is better than existing solutions. These are concerns that smart textile companies often pay too little attention to too late in the product development process.
Another key problem to be solved as soon as possible is the lack of clear and generalized regulations and standards, whether in the design of products, services or data management. International standards and trade rules are needed to ensure both user safety and a level playing field for industries around the world.
Any smart textile development project must actively involve all relevant stakeholders in the future, concludes the consortium.
This includes designers, manufacturers, end users and end-of-life treatment experts, as well as service and application development experts. Building a successful community – one of the objectives achieved by the SmartX program – has been of crucial importance in ensuring that all talents, abilities and knowledge work in better synergy across the industry.