A New Generation Of Digital Clothing


Modern consumers are leading increasingly busy lives as work, family, leisure, and all kinds of extra-curricular activities and commitments take hold. That’s why, new lifestyle products are needed, products able to understand them and respond to their individual needs across various digital services. Wearables and e-textiles are playing a big part in this movement, paving the way for a new generation of digital clothing.

Recent examples include Google’s Commuter Trucker Jacket designed for urban bike commuters, allowing wearers to control their smartphones and connect to a variety of apps, just by swiping the sleeve of the jacket.

Also, Antelope’s technologically enhanced sportswear by using electro muscle stimulation (EMS) to maximise performance and increase workout efficiency.

The digital association Bitkom claims that smartwatches and fitness devices have arrived in the mass market and the next revolution of digitised clothing is about to happen. It says that digitisation has ‘penetrated the skin of consumers’ and familiar clothing parts now transform into connected interfaces.

The need for wearable tech is increasing rapidly, and application possibilities are manifold. In fact, according to Gartner Inc, sales in the global wearables market are expected to grow by 62.6% by 2021.

To adapt to this changing environment, the international fashion and lifestyle industry has had to innovate and established traditional textiles have had to reinvent themselves in the age of Industry 4.0 – an ongoing process that is still very much in its infancy.

It is therefore crucial for businesses to recognise the potential of wearables in good time and to exploit them for their own corporate goals. For instance, BMW has introduced the smart glove ProGlove to its operations which saves 4,000 minutes a day on the assembly line and revolutionises all production processes.

The size of their end-use markets justifies the considerable need for digital products like this. According to CEO of ProGlove, Thomas Kirchner, around two million people around the world work in the manufacturing and logistics markets, which he calls ‘the background of our material world’.

He also states that these markets only have one significant need – efficiency – meaning fast and high-quality production. This is what ProGlove provides. It contains a built-in scanner which enables process steps to be documented hands-free, giving instant feedback to the user.

This robotic approach to logistics has raised concerns over the redundancy of workers across many industries in future years, but Kirchner is keen to point out that Industry 4.0 is not about machines – it’s about humans; creating the next generation of technology that can enhance people’s job roles, rather than replace them.

To successfully meet the new demands of the digital era, global players must now build new types of business relationships.

Technology companies, for example, have started to cooperate with lifestyle brands, scientific institutions with start-ups, and luxury brands are finding their way into the electronics industry.

This concept of cross-industry networking could be seen at Wear It Festival 2018, an international conference and platform for players in all application sectors, to drive the development of the digital market jointly.

Held at Kulturbrauerei Berlin on 19-20 June, Wear It Festival brought together 30 speakers, 40 exhibitors as well as 500 trade visitors from the wearables scene. Topics covered included: workwear and industrial applications; lifestyle and fashion; sports; health and medical devices; smart materials and e-textiles; and IoT and application development.

Successful entrepreneurs provided insight into their strategies, while suppliers presented innovation materials, and components and research institutes showed recent results.

The cross-industry exchange discussed the most burning questions from industry and research, such as:

  • How can companies take an active leadership role in the new market?
  • What are the new needs of industrial and private customers?
  • Where are the latest trends in the scene?
  • Which requirements are associated with the development of wearables and digital services?
  • What can be learned from the currently most successful product developments?

Addressing these trends is a sure-fire way of attracting industry interest. “We are partners of Wear It Festival because we come across the next breakthrough innovations here.

We want to know what’s next so that we can address the needs of the scene right from the early stages of product development,” says Philipp Miehlich, general manager business unit OEM of VARTA Microbattery.

Present at Wear It Festival was Fraunhofer Institute, Europe’s largest application-oriented research organisation, with 69 institutes spread throughout Germany, including Fraunhofer Technical Textiles Alliance.

The institute believes that the future of Industry 4.0 rests upon the ability to pool knowledge and resources, with Fraunhofer experts focusing on virtual reality concepts, new additive manufacturing techniques, digital networks connecting machinery with products and suppliers, smart maintenance, new assistance systems, as well as 5G wireless standard for real-time transmission of machinery data.

At Wear It Festival, Fraunhofer FEP (organic electronics, electron beam and plasma technology) discussed customised OLED design.

The focus is on diverse applications entering industrial production as well as consumer goods applications based on semiconducting organic materials – e.g. in lighting, information, automotive, medical, and environmental technologies, as well as safety technology.

One example of its work is a flexible OLED bracelet that could help heal wounds and treat depression. The wearable device also has applications in fashion and can give visibility to people working outside at night when tuned to red or yellow frequencies, says Fraunhofer.

To develop the wearable device, Fraunhofer worked with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, who integrated the ready-made OLED into a bracelet and developed the compact power supply for the whole system.

The successful integration of the flexible OLED components into 3D injection moulded structures was quite challenging.

Markus Tuomikoski from VTT says: “We used injection-moulded organic electronics for the integration of the OLED, to meet the demands of a wearable device, the conception and realisation of a compact power supply system.

In the end, we realised a combination of flexible electronics and flexible OLED within our plastic moulded bracelet thanks to the positive joint work of the partners.”

Claudia Keibler-Willner, head of the department of S2S Organic Technology at Fraunhofer FEP, says: “We are proud of the ability to produce ready-made products such as the wristband together with our partners now. A sheet-to-sheet process has produced the applied OLEDs at Fraunhofer FEP and Holst Centre. Thanks to the progress made so far, we are now in a position to offer stable OLEDs from the open-access pilot line with our joint know-how and according to customers’ needs.”

Photo credit: Wear It Berlin / Michael Wittig, Berlineration of digital clothing.

This article originally appeared in WTIN