SALD supplies technofibres for new textiles


"Fibres with atomic coatings will turn the textile industry upside down," predicts Frank Verhage, CEO of the Dutch technology start-up SALD BV (Eindhoven). The company name stands for "Spatial Atomic Layer Deposition" (SALD) and refers to a process for applying atom-thin layers to fibres, for example. By applying several layers on top of each other made of different substances that enter into controlled chemical reactions, properties can be created that are "completely crazy" (Frank Verhage). The SALD boss speaks of a "textile revolution", comparable to the invention of synthetic fibres or synthetic dyes since the mid-19th century.

"The 2020s will go down in history as the beginning of technofibres," Frank Verhage is convinced. His company says it has developed a unique, patented process to apply coatings as thin as a single atom on an industrial scale. With each layer, different substances can be applied so that a chemical reaction occurs with the previously applied substance. This makes it possible to create functionally completely different substances, complex compounds, polymers and hybrid organic and inorganic materials. Despite the high level of functionality, the resulting surfaces are extremely thin: if one towers eight layers on top of each other, for example, the fibre coating is still thinner than one nanometre, i.e. 0.000001 millimetres. Compared to chemical treatment methods, atomic coating has the advantage that it is carried out in a dry rather than wet process, does not require a time-consuming drying process and leaves no chemical residues.

"Atom-coated fibres denote miniaturisation, which we otherwise only know from computer chip production. The term technofibres is better, because with the atomic layers technological properties can be brought into the textile world that are comparable to the upheavals in chip development in the computer world," Frank Verhage draws a comparison. A future generation of smart textiles will be able to light up, warm up and record or transmit data. "At the same time, the novel technofibres can be used in areas where textiles had not even been considered before, for example, for solar cells, transistors or sensors. "Think of clothing that generates enough energy from sunlight to permanently power organic electronics woven into the fabric. Or a T-shirt monitors the vital data of its wearer and transmits it by radio to a health centre. A selection of thousands of application scenarios."

He continues: "The principle applies: the future is made by those who make it. Ten years ago, no one could have imagined today's smartphones. Thanks to techno-fibres, the textile industry is on the verge of a similarly fundamental change to smart textiles. Those who rely on SALD are there from the very beginning."

Thanks to "Spatial Atomic Layer Deposition", the fashion industry, which has so far been determined primarily by fashion trends, can in future be further developed by technology-driven trends. New materials make outfits possible that have never been seen before, with novel properties that are thinner, more durable, more weatherproof or "simply" more stylish. Technotextiles can be used far beyond clothing for medical and hygiene products such as bandages, pads, mouth-nose masks and many other applications.

The Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) expects the global market for smart textiles to swell to more than 40 billion euros by 2030. That would be about a tenfold increase compared to today's market volume.

Caption: SALD expects smart textiles with intelligent functions to be the next billion dollar market (image: SALD)

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