The smart materials of the future

Human beings have been manufacturing a variety of textiles for more than 9,000 years. They have kept families warm, furnished homes and protected furniture and people. In the future, however, textiles will do even more for us. Smart textiles will revolutionise our lives.

INTRIGUING POSSIBILITIES

“Smart textiles are really exciting. They also offer greater scope to integrate functions and broaden our design options. The development of these textiles will lead us to creating products offering greater comfort and allow us to communicate with these products in completely new ways. The textiles of the future will improve our everyday lives and open up new possibilities to industry, healthcare and the environment. We believe that the textile industry is moving from being fabric suppliers to becoming a positive force in social development,” says Anna Berglund, project coordinator at Smart Textiles in Borås.

A segment of particular interest to Kinnarps is how colours can be used together with textiles in the future.

“Some pigments change under different conditions in response to heat, moisture and light. Depending on what the material is exposed to, the design changes and people can then respond to its new appearance and function. That’s how things might work in future,” says Anna Berglund.

 

THE FUTURE IS HERE

"We believe that the textile industry is moving from being fabric suppliers to becoming a positive force in social development"

Anna Berglund, Smart Textiles

What about a jacket that changes colour in response to your mood, or a rucksack that varies between thirteen different colours depending on the wind and weather! Smart textiles are now moving into our homes and workplaces…

Products which have already had great success at Selfridges in London have been developed by designer Lauren Bowker, who had previously worked with both Formula 1 teams and Parisian fashion houses.

With the Air collection – which comprises everything from wallets to jackets representing the latest fashion statements – Lauren Bowker completely turns our ideas about what can be done with fabrics upside down. All these products are basically black, but they assume new shimmering colours when exposed to external influences. These may be a change in the weather, in air pressure or a sudden rain shower.

“Or depending on who wears the fabric. As we all have different blood circulations and body temperatures, the fabric responds to this by measuring the heat that we give out. For the same reason, a scarf, for instance, acquires a different colour and appearance because part of the fabric is close to the body whereas other parts hang freely,” says Lauren Bowker.

The secret behind this phenomenon is thin ink pigment that Lauren Bowker has developed which is painted over the products. When the pigment reacts with carbon monoxide, different colours are produced. Naturally, it’s quite another question as to how to match one’s outfit…

Kinnarps recently visited Smart Textiles in Borås in order to try out ways of printing with a heat-sensitive colour – by no means an easy procedure.

Interactive furniture

Imagine your office chair talking to you and telling you that you have been sitting too long and it was time to get up. Increased interaction between the material and its user is a key factor in the development of smart textiles. Kinnarps is currently running a truly fascinating project around just this scenario.

“We are carefully following developments and research in smart textiles, so that Kinnarps will be able to use these techniques to create new, attractive and ergonomic interior design solutions. We are currently running a tremendously exciting project together with Smart Textiles in Borås. We are still at the prototype stage, but it’s all about how we can change the appearance of a fabric in response to the body’s heat, for example,”

Christina Wiklund, Colour and Materials manager, Kinnarps Sweden

Kinnarps recently visited Smart Textiles in Borås in order to try out ways of printing with a heat-sensitive colour – by no means an easy procedure.

“The printing technique can be done manually or by rotation printing using a template. The heat-sensitive pigment must subsequently be hardened in an oven. The hardening process in particular must be improved before we can test the next step.”

Despite several obstacles along the path, Christina Wiklund is confident about the future of smart textiles within the furniture industry.

“Yes, a fabric that changes colour would allow new and exciting furnishing solutions, certainly from a design perspective, but mostly in terms of its function and applicability. However, the future will show when this can become a reality.”