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Laser Surface Processing Alters Elastic properties

Elasticated fabrics have become commonplace in garments for sporting and medical applications, often relying upon controlled compressive forces to add functionality. Pre-existing methods of selectively controlling elastic modulus to provide this compression to defined locations, such as by sewing different fabrics together, are typically manually intensive, slow and expensive. Work at TWI, via a PhD studentship, explored the use of laser surface processing to directly alter the elastic properties of mass-produced, off-the-shelf stretch fabrics.

Background

The ubiquity of lasers in the textile industry, both for joining and cutting applications, widens their potential appeal as a platform for other textile modifications. TWI has successfully demonstrated their application in textile joining over the last two decades. The use of a flexible tool such as a laser provides the ability to target specific locations in a controlled fashion.

Objectives

To investigate the capability of laser processing to selectively alter the elastic modulus of stretch fabrics and develop a demonstrator garment.

Work Programme

As part of a PhD studentship, a demonstration swimsuit was produced in conjunction with Speedo, using slightly modified commercial laser equipment, similar to laser cutters already fully adopted and in widespread use throughout the garment industry supply chain. The laser was used to selectively treat both single-layer and multi-layer materials, which were then subject to testing.

Project Outcome

The developed process uses a high-speed laser of the type found in existing fabric laser cutting equipment to create patterns of localised spot melting of the thermoplastic fibre in a stretch fabric, which was found to lock the elastic fibre. With careful selection of parameters, stretch and compression can be modified in multiple directions with little reduction in strength of the base fabric. This provides the capability to tailor the elastic modulus of stock fabric in all directions, without additional materials, and is expected to find utility in sports, fashion and medical garments, gloves, footwear and wherever else stretch/compression fabric is used. The process can be used following manufacture of a base garment, to produce batches or even individually customised or bespoke garments using, for example, the result of 3D body scanning and tailored fitting. The process lends itself to reduced manual handling and high repeatability when compared to existing techniques, leading to projected lower cost and higher throughput. The reduction in materials mixing enables easier product recyclability. Since no additional materials or panels are required, there are no seams, adhesives or tapes required and an incredibly smooth transition between different zones of compression can be achieved. Modification pattern form and orientation can be used to control body movement, posture and apply pressure to targeted muscle groups. This gives an enhanced ability to target specific areas of the body accurately.

Fig 1 - A prototype swimsuit upon which laser modification had been carried out to selectively adjust elastic modulus in particular regions.
Fig 1 - A prototype swimsuit upon which laser modification had been carried out to selectively adjust elastic modulus in particular regions.
Fig 2 Melted sub-regions on fabric.
Fig 2 Melted sub-regions on fabric.
Fig 3 SEM image of a melted spot of fabric.
Fig 3 SEM image of a melted spot of fabric.

This work was funded by the Industrial Members of TWI, as part of the Core Research Programme and was carried out by Helen Paine (Research Engineer) and Ian Jones (TWI Supervisor). The support of the staff at Speedo, Dr Sharon Baurley at the Royal College of Art and Dr Kate Goldsworthy at the University of the Arts, London, is gratefully acknowledged.

See TWI Members Report 1081/2017 (Industrial Members only) or email contactus@twi.co.uk for more details

Avatar Dan Lord Asst. Intellectual Property Manager

Dan joined TWI in March 2003 as an IP officer, following a BSc (Hons) in Metallurgy at UMIST and MSc in Forensic Engineering & Science at Cranfield University. He is responsible for management and licensing of TWI’s portfolio of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) and assists in the capture, development and commercialisation of new ideas.