When Clothes Are More than Just Clothing

— “Smart” Textiles
:::

2019 / September

Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Robert Fox


An early human invention, clothing functioned to ward off cold; as civilization evolved, clothes became fashion symbols. In today’s fast-changing world of technology, clothes can interface with bodily signals, sensing heart rate, pulse, mood, temperature, stress. Soon technology will revolutionize everything we wear.

 


Taiwan’s textile and electronics industries are like two “Infinity Stones” in the Marvel movie series The Avengers. With the efforts for integration of textiles and tech­nology made by the Taiwan Smart Textile Association (tsta), just as in the movies, everybody is waiting for Thanos to snap his fingers and make smart textiles a reality.

tsta: An integrative platform

“We’re still waiting for the wind to fill our sails, waiting for a genuine market to appear,” says Ray Lin, chairman of both TexRay Group and tsta.

The year 2011 was pivotal in the development of smart textiles. “The advent of the Internet of Things and the Bluetooth communications protocols made it possible for all wearable devices to share common specifications,” says Shen Chien-lung, chief of the Smart Textiles Section at the Taiwan Textile Research Institute (TTRI) and tsta secretary-general. And today, with the introduction of 5G technology, information can be instantly transmitted to the cloud, turning smart textiles’ manifold possibilities into actualities.

“From now on a piece of clothing won’t be just a piece of clothing; it may also be a sensing system,” Lin adds. It will have sensors and circuits, and send out signals through a transmitter, which will involve algorithms. When the collected data reach the cloud, they will ­undergo big data analysis. Once those components are integrated into clothing, they will need to maintain their functionality through repeated washings. As one can see, producing a smart garment is no simple undertaking.

From 2011 to 2017, many textile manufacturers invested in research and development. In 2018, the Taiwan Smart Textile Association, long in the planning, finally became a reality. By integrating the strengths of Taiwan’s electronics and textile industries, tsta aims to facilitate inter-­industry communication and develop a shared vision, opening the door to heretofore unimagined possibilities.

As soon as it was established, tsta forged links with the Taiwan Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association, the Taiwan Precision Medicine Society, the Taiwan IOT Technology and Industry Association, and Canada’s intelliFLEX Innovation Alliance. Another of tsta’s goals is to assist in formulating and promoting industry standards. In the long term, the association plans to help Taiwan’s smart textiles sector go global by forming an industrial cluster, and by letting the world know that Taiwan is the place to go for smart clothing.

Light SPA: Clothing for Tokyo 2020

According to the definitions published by the Euro­pean Committee for Standardization (CEN) in technical report CEN/TR 16298:2011, functional textiles, better known as technical fabrics or performance fabrics, are textiles designed to have a specific functionality.. Smart textiles are performance fabrics that can actively interact with the environment and react or adapt to environmental changes. Light SPA, founded in 2016, is bringing smart functionality to performance fabrics.

Using a unique polypropylene (PP) fiber de­veloped by Tri Ocean Textile, Light SPA founder Tony Lee combined the 40-year textile-industry experience of Canvada Industrial Corporation, a company run by members of his own family, with ideas drawn from phototherapy to create products that found favor with sporting equipment suppliers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, netting a substantial purchase order.

Light SPA’s patented product combines two types of fiber, polypropylene and polyester, into a double-layer fabric. The skin-facing layer is made of polypropylene fiber, and the moisture-absorbing layer is made of polyester fiber with an X-shaped cross-section. The fabric uses third-generation (i.e., dual-layer) moisture wicking technology to draw sweat away from the body. Because polypropylene fiber has a low affinity for moisture, sweat that enters the polypropylene layer is quickly absorbed into the polyester layer, from where it evaporates into the air, thus keeping the skin dry and comfortable without losing heat. This “anti-chill” function makes the fabric feel cool to the skin while retaining warmth.

After witnessing the successful use of phototherapy at National Taiwan University Hospital’s Burn Center, Tony Lee hit on the idea of developing photo­therapeutic clothing that would block ultraviolet rays but let through visible sunlight beneficial to the skin. Working with the principle of fluorescence, the fibers in the polyester layer of the fabric are dyed with fluorescent dye, because fluor­escence converts the sun’s rays into light that’s good for the skin. Lee adopted the slogan “Intense Pulsed Light for active people,” promoting the product as a spa treatment for the skin.

While explaining the fabric’s multiple uses, Lee notes that the wicking function is what most interested Japanese manufacturers. As comfort is the first thing people look for in clothing, Lee’s innovation will do Taiwan proud at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

2PIR: The world’s first smart triathlon suit

Since its beginnings as an importer of bicycle and fishing tackle components, Sunstar Taiwan Enterprises has been in the sports and leisure business for nearly 60 years. Familiarity with the market, command of distribution channels, and an understanding of consumer needs are the company’s strengths. Sunstar also believes that comfort should be the first consideration in de­velop­ing smart clothing.

Heart rate monitors are sports accessories often used by athletes and coaches to record data to aid in ­training. However, traditional monitors that strap across the chest can affect athletes’ movements and coordination, and measurements are often unreliable.

Sunstar understands users’ needs and happened to learn that the conductive synthetic yarns developed by the Taiwan Textile Research Institute can be used to collect signals from the body. Company president Peter Chou thought that when used to measure heart rates, these fabrics would be more accurate than chest-strap or optical heart rate monitors.

Since entering the market with its 2PIR brand (pronounced “2˘r”), Sunstar has developed the world’s first smart triathlon suit with heart rate monitoring function.

Lots of medical terms start popping up as we talk—in developing its 2PIR line, Sunstar has crossed over from the sports and leisure business into textiles, and from there into the field of medicine. This intrepid spirit is a testament to Peter Chou’s instructions to his colleagues to create “high-end” products. Assistant manager Dabo Ku proudly notes that the heart-rate data registered by Sunstar’s tri­athlon suit shows an accuracy of up to 99.3% when compared with results produced by medical-­grade instruments.

Sunstar handled the R&D and design from start to finish. The company has patented its process for integrating elastic fabric electrodes into garments, to solve the problem of stably transmitting signals under differing conditions. It took a great deal of time and effort by R&D personnel to achieve satisfactory results.

Taiwan’s textile industrial cluster is completely self-­reliant: all necessary materials can be “Made in Taiwan.” By combining its strengths with the efficiency of Taiwan’s fully developed industrial chain and its access to other manufacturers through tsta, Sunstar produces triathlete smartwear that embodies the advantages of an integrated supply chain.

TENS smart leggings, Sunstar’s next upcoming smartwear product, can measure calf muscle strength and lactic acid accumulation, providing useful information to athletes. What’s more, the low-frequency massage function built into the leggings can release muscle tightness. These examples further illustrate the irreplaceable value of products that Taiwan’s smart textile industry has created based on user needs and circumstances.

AiQ: Smart textiles solutions

It’s not easy to get to meet with Nadia Kang, AiQ Smart Clothing Inc.’s chief marketing officer—most of the time she’s jetting to and from exhibitions in various parts of the world.

Founded in 2009, AiQ got into the smart clothing arena early on. Its parent company, TexRay Industrial Co., Ltd., provides a complete vertically integrated supply chain. Using resources available within the group, such as the stainless-steel fibers developed by King’s Metal Fiber Technologies, another TexRay subsidiary, AiQ embarked on related R&D before the conditions for a market to develop had fully emerged.

Unlike other businesses that focus mainly on product development, “AiQ doesn’t manufacture just one item,” Kang states repeatedly. “Clothes are just a ­vehicle for technology. We see clothing as a link between people and devices, a human‡machine interface.”

Most Taiwanese manufacturers operate within the worldwide “original equipment manufacturer” (OEM) supply chain. AiQ is one of the few to go the “original brand manufacturer” (OBM) route. Delivering integrated solutions is AiQ’s strategy: integrating software and hardware, as well as front-end and back-end functions, through a fully vertically integrated service offering. “AiQ is a technology brand; if you can imagine ‘Intel Inside,’ then we are ‘AiQ Inside,’” Kang explains.

That’s why AiQ advertises worldwide and is present at all major international exhibitions. Mention smart fabrics anywhere in the world today, and people will think of AiQ; mention AiQ, and they’ll think of Taiwan.

Nadia Kang’s remarks reveal her quiet excitement and pride in her company’s achievements. In 2019, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry invited AiQ to participate in “Wired to Wear,” an exhibition featuring more than a hundred creative innovations from brands, designers, engineers and artists from 15 countries and regions. Included were demonstrations together with NASA, Google and other high-­profile organizations. AiQ was invited to showcase its latest motion capture technology, cementing its standing in the world of smart textiles.

After talking with Taiwan’s smart textile manufacturers, something that TexRay chairperson Ray Lin said comes clearly to mind: “It’s not that Taiwan has so many advantages; it’s just that when the smart textile market opens up, Taiwan companies will be right there.”

Relevant articles

Recent Articles

繁體

穿上未來、智慧上身

進擊的台灣智慧紡織

文‧鄧慧純 圖‧林格立

衣服,這人類古早的發明,禦寒是其最基礎的功能,隨著文化的演進,它成為時尚符號的載體;在穿戴科技發展猛進的今日,衣服成為人體訊號的介面,可以感測心率、脈衝、情緒、溫度、壓力等。在不遠的未來,它將改變你的衣櫃。


台灣紡織和電子兩大產業,如同漫威電影《復仇者聯盟》中的兩顆無限寶石,透過「台灣智慧型紡織品協會(Taiwan Smart Textiles Association, tsta)」的整合,大家正等著如劇中薩諾斯一個彈指,讓智慧紡織實現成真。

整合異業的平台:台灣智慧型紡織品協會

「我們還在等待風起,等待真正的終端客人出現。」南緯實業董事長、台灣智慧型紡織品協會理事長林瑞岳說。

2011年是智慧紡織發展關鍵的時間點。「物聯網技術的發展及藍牙通訊協定的制定,讓所有的穿戴裝置有了共通的規格。」財團法人紡織產業綜合研究所(簡稱紡織綜合所)智慧型紡織品組組長、台灣智慧型紡織品協會秘書長沈乾龍指出。再加上5G技術的發展,讓所有的資訊可以快速傳到雲端,這才使智慧紡織許多天馬行空的創意落地,有了實現的可能。

「自此衣服不僅是一件衣服,它可能是一個偵測系統。」林瑞岳說。要有感測器、傳導的線路,透過發射器把訊息傳輸出去,牽涉到演算法,資料收集到雲端後,進行大數據分析。這些元件整合進衣服後,「還要能水洗100次,而且不損壞功能。」林瑞岳微微一笑,再補一記回馬槍,這樣就知道要成就一件智慧衣有多難了。

台灣身為紡織大國,自不能缺席智慧紡織的潮流。2011~2017年,許多紡織大廠紛紛投入研發。2018年,醞釀許久的「台灣智慧型紡織品協會」成立,整合台灣電子與紡織產業的優勢,讓平常少有往來的電子人與紡織人能聚在一起,異業溝通,開拓彼此的視野,就有機會創出許多意想不到的整合方案。

協會一成立,即向外連結了電機電子工業同業公會、台灣精準醫學學會(TPMS)、台灣物聯網產業技術協會(TIOTA)等,又跨出國境與加拿大intelliFLEX Innovation Alliance對接。協會的目的還要協助標準的制定及推廣,長期要形成產業聚落,讓大家知道要找智慧成衣就要到台灣來,就像之前要找電子代工就到台灣,讓台灣的智慧紡織走到國際去。

獲東京奧運指定的布料:昇締生技

根據歐洲標準委員會(European Committee for Standardization, CEN)的技術報告,功能性紡織材料具有主動與環境互動能力,如可以隨著環境的變化反應或適應的能力。2016年創立的昇締生技,即是讓機能性材料智慧化的廠商。

運用三洋紡織發展出獨步全球PP纖維,Light SPA創辦人李寬鴻結合家族泓達企業40年紡織經驗,再注入光療的點子,獲得2020東京奧運廠商青睞,拿下大筆訂單。

傳統防曬衣的概念是把布料織得密實,讓光線透不過來,但纖維密實卻也造成孔隙小,熱氣難以散出,涼爽和防曬難以兩全。昇締生技的專利在於結合聚丙烯與聚酯纖維兩種紗線原料,織成異材質的雙層織物,總經理李寬鴻解釋。親膚層為聚丙烯纖維,吸濕層則採用十字斷面的聚酯纖維,運用第三代吸濕排汗的技術,因為聚丙烯纖維含水量低,汗水接觸到聚丙烯很快被吸收到聚酯纖維層,蒸發到空氣中,此為單向導濕功能,能保持皮膚乾爽舒適,且熱量不因蒸發被帶走,具有抗寒顫的功能,使一塊布料「涼爽」卻又「保暖」。

李寬鴻又從台大燒燙傷中心見識了光療的效果,研發出光療衣概念:把紫外線擋掉,留下對皮膚有益的可見光。再輔以螢光反應的原理──螢光色能把光線轉換成對皮膚有益的光,將纖維染成螢光色。布料經過SGS嚴謹檢測,並獲得歐盟無毒認證。李寬鴻打出「行動的脈衝光」的口號,穿上它,就像在為肌膚做SPA,一塊布自此擁有多重機能。

花了大量的時間解釋布料多重的功能,但李寬鴻透露,日本廠商看中的其實是布材的吸濕排汗,穿得舒適始終是人們對衣服最基本的要求,也成為2020東京奧運的台灣之光。

全球第一件感測三鐵衣:2PIR

從自行車、釣具代理起家,三司達經營運動休閒領域已近一甲子,熟悉市場、掌握通路、了解消費者需求是他們的強項。跨足智慧衣領域,三司達同樣把穿著舒適視為產品開發的首要條件。

心率感測是運動配件中熱門品項,熱愛運動的族群常依靠科學化的數據來輔助訓練。但傳統心率帶環扣在胸前,常會影響運動的協調性,為求舒適,使用者會自行調鬆緊度,致使感測器容易位移,數值也會偏差。

三司達看到使用者的需求,又因緣際會地知道紡織綜合所開發可以導電的織物,可以偵測身體生理訊號。董事長周邦秋心想,如果藉此來偵測心率,會比市面上用心率帶或光學心率感測的物件更有效地取得準確的數據,同時讓人願意長時間穿著使用。

三司達自此踏入智慧紡織產業,以2PIR為品牌,從自行車衣出發,再轉換路線專注在三鐵(自行車、跑步、游泳)愛好者的使用需求,開發出全球第一件感測三鐵衣,可搭配坊間許多的心率感測APP使用。

當初的起心動念是想擴充自家產品的多元性,卻因為代理世界一流品牌產品,眼界無形中被提升,讓他們對自我產品的要求也拔高至「精品」的等級。

當訪談的話題從單純的心率感測,不知不覺出現了許多醫學專有名詞時,才知道他們為了這件三鐵衣,涉獵的知識領域已經從休閒運動跨足紡織再進入醫學,這樣的精神,正印證了周邦秋給同仁做出「精品」的指示。副理辜銘仁說明自家三鐵衣的感測數值與醫療等級儀器量測出來的結果可達99.3%精準時,語氣中帶著稱讚自家小孩的驕傲。

整個過程,三司達主掌研發設計,像彈性織物電極與衣物的貼合技術就是自家的專利之一,在不同使用情境下,訊號如何穩定傳輸,亦花費許多研發人員的精力才達到滿意的成果。

台灣紡織產業完整的聚落特性,則讓它們不假外求,得以全部MIT。掌握自己的優勢強項,結合台灣完備的產業鏈,透過參與tsta取得協力廠商的參與,三司達的三鐵衣可說是整合供應鏈的代表。

下階段的產品TENS智慧感測腿套,可偵測小腿肌力及乳酸堆積程度,提供資訊給運動者參考,同時附加藉由低周波按摩器能釋放肌肉壓力的功能。這些案例更說明智慧紡織從使用者需求與情境創造出無可替代的價值。

提供智慧紡織完整方案:AiQ

要跟AiQ的行銷長康琦婌在台灣見上一面,實屬不易。她大部分的時間都在當空中飛人,參與全球各大小展會,與各大企業會面。身為紡織人,卻多在電子展可見她的身影。

AiQ成立於2009年,母公司南緯提供完整上中下游的供應鏈,運用集團內金鼎開發的不鏽鋼金屬纖維材料,在市場環境尚未整備之前,AiQ就用自家現有的東西做研發,可說是早期的投入者。

智慧衣的關鍵要素,康琦婌直指是要能「連結」(connected),要有智慧的導電材,感測的資訊才能循著線路傳輸。同時從了解使用者需求,智慧紡織能在不同的應用領域提供不同等級的需求。也因此康琦婌再三聲明,「AiQ不是做一件產品,衣服只是技術的載具,他們將衣服當作是人與裝置的聯繫,就像是人機介面。」

當台灣廠商在全球的位置還是在OEM的供應鏈,AiQ是少數走OBM路線。以提供解決方案為策略,整合軟硬體,前端及後台的全方位垂直整合服務。「AiQ是技術品牌,你可以想像是Intel Inside,那我們就是AiQ Inside。」康琦婌解釋。

因此,AiQ要到世界各地去廣告,去尋找客人,在世界重要展會都可以見到AiQ的身影,也是他們的風塵僕僕,讓今日在國際上,提到智慧紡織就會想到AiQ,提到AiQ就會想到台灣。

站上如此的位階,辛苦卻是箇中滋味。康琦婌指出企業文化是很大的挑戰。公司內部75%是工程師,紡織人怎麼跟工程師溝通,她形容像是月球人跟火星人講話,但為了同樣的目標,大家還是要坐下來談,咬著牙往前走。

從康琦婌的言談中,總能在她快速的話語裡捕捉到她隱隱的興奮,和對工作成就的雀躍。今(2019)年AiQ應芝加哥科學與工業博物館之邀,參與企劃展出“Wired to Wear”,來自15個國家╱地區的品牌、設計師、工程師及藝術家一百多項的創新創意,其中還包括與NASA、Google這些全球知名的企業同台演出。AiQ受邀展出Motion Capture 智慧衣的最新技術,也讓AiQ在全球智慧紡織的定位不辯自明了。

走訪了一輪台灣的智慧紡織廠商,心中更明確的浮出的是理事長林瑞岳的那句話,「不是說台灣有多強,而是只要這個市場(智慧紡織)出來的時候,台灣廠商一定不會缺席。」

進擊吧!智慧紡織的夥伴!

X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!
更快速更方便!