Flat knitting, embroidery and DIY – the SmartX tools of tomorrow

During the last virtual meeting of SmartX, the European accelerator for smart textiles, on October 9, the versatility of flat knitting and the productivity of embroidery in the creation and commercialization of new smart fabrics were highlighted.

SmartX has just launched its latest call for applications, with companies having until February 15and to obtain up to €60,000 in funding each.

This follows the success of the second call, which opened in June 2020 and attracted great interest from the textile and technology industries, despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The call resulted in 29 full applications, including 19 submitted by consortia. A total of 56 SMEs from 16 different EU and associated countries applied. Most of the proposals related to wellness markets, while the others focused on health and protection.

Supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, the three-year SmartX Europe program supports up to 40 smart textile projects with a total budget of €2.4 million and also offers a year of coaching free to help start-ups and small businesses grow their technologies and make the contacts they need.

“Having selected 20 projects worth over €1.5m in our first two SmartX calls, we are now looking for our third and final cohort of pioneering projects ready to conquer attractive market niches in end markets. protection, sport, health and industry with disruptive smart technologies. textile solutions. said Lutz Walter, General Secretary of Textile ETP, SmartX partner and program coordinator. The acceleration platform is led by a consortium of 13 European partners from the textile and technology industries.

ADF Stoll

Alexander Behm, Stoll’s technical textile product manager, explained how endless new smart fabric designs are possible on the company’s ADF flat knitting machine, via intarsia, veneer and intercalation techniques to specifically integrate functional silver polyamide or pure stainless steel or copper wires to create flexible conductors for heating elements, sensors and actuators.

Many options have already been realized through Stoll’s partnership with Myant, and other commercial examples include heated clothing marketed by Germany’s WarmX.

A current medical application made with the Stoll system is a knitted gold mesh used as an electrode in a device for the transfer of radio frequency (RF) energy in the treatment of menstrual pain.

However, perhaps the most sophisticated product created on the Stoll system to date is the glove created for Robert Bosch, Europe’s largest supplier of automotive components, with sales of 77.7 billion euros in 2019.

Stoll's seamless knitted glove created for Robert Bosch, Europe's largest supplier of automotive components.  © Stoll.

This seamless 3D flat knit glove is made up of yarn sensors that allow the wearer to detect and control applications in human-computer interactions.

An intarsia plating technique was used to create the glove’s conductive and flexible sensors at each fingertip and a selective plating technique allowed the 12 electrical paths to be precisely positioned, each based on unique wire reels.

“The sensors were integrated into a tubular structure and we used elastic threads to provide comfort to the custom shape of the glove,” Behm said. “The glove retains full breathability, despite its complex design.”

ZSK multi-heads

Melanie Hoerr, Technical Embroidery Manager for ZSK, based in Krefeld, Germany, explained that for creating smart fabrics, three of the company’s separate embroidery heads can be combined in one machine:

– The F-Head, which is most commonly used for decorative embroidery and has been used to mass-produce yarn-based smart fabrics containing LEDs and RFID chips bonded to a PCB (printed circuit board), which is d first attached to the fabric substrate, followed by embroidered conductive paths from it to the individual sensor areas.

– The K-Head for making custom patterns with 3D shapes embedded in loops on top of the base fabric – so-called ‘foam embroidery’ – to create very good conductive areas for reading biosignals via ‘dry’ sensors. The foam-embroidered textile sensors allow much closer contact with the body when measuring vital signs for clearer and more effective signals. “It allows you to feel the sensor without seeing it,” Hoerr said.

– The K-Head, for custom wire placements such as heating elements, electroluminescence, RFID antennas of all shapes. Video was shown of a series of 11 such heads inserting full heating elements into car seat cushions at a rate of 2,000 per 24 hours of operation.


Daniela, Zavec from smart textiles consultancy Titeria, explained how a company she has worked with, Nanoleq in Switzerland, is making the creation of smart fabrics for biosensing and other applications highly accessible to new entrants to the field.

Nanoleq has developed key components that can be easily applied to garments by hot lamination.

Nanoleq has developed key components that can be easily applied to garments by hot lamination.  © Nanoléq.

“It is important to note that Nanoleq developed not only the components, but the complete testing protocol in terms of washability, stretch, chemical resistance and other performance attributes, to ensure the robustness of new products based on these components,” Zavec said.

Nanoleq claims that its ElectroSkin electrodes are lightweight, thin and have even better skin impedance than standard medical gel electrodes without wetting and even after repeated washings.

A starter kit consisting of 12 ElectroSkin electrodes, isolation patches for connections, conductive snaps and support tools, laminated reference sample and SOP documentation is currently available from the company for €880, including 90 minutes of phone support for rolling and connection issues.

Could creating new smart fabrics be easier?

This last call for applications for the SmartX project is open until February 15th.