Can smart clothing boost profitability of legacy textile makers ?

Smart Clothing with integrated biosensors
Image Credit : Extreme Tech

Japan has seen a transformation of some of its legacy textile makers in recent years. Companies such as Teijin and Torray are expanding their product offerings by incorporating smart clothing lines.

Rivals across the globe have undermined the profitability of commodity textiles. Developing applications for highly functional textiles will be an indispensable part of Japanese manufacturers’ growth plans.

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The domestic market for smart clothing is expected to be 7 billion yen ($66 million) in 2022, according to Tokyo-based consultancy Fuji Keizai, or 11 times bigger than in 2017.

Asia Nikkei looked at some of the transformations happening around product offerings from legacy Textile makers.

Teijin’s new Synthesis wear can simulate the sense of touch in virtual reality. The smart jacket tracks a VR user’s movements, and attached modules in the jacket provide haptic feedback, adding another layer of realism to the VR experience.

The company’s new jacket product uses specially designed fabric that conducts electricity and communication signals, allowing users to change the haptic modules’ positioning and the battery easily.

Teijin is also exploring other areas besides gaming wear for its smart fabric

It actively explores the use of the jacket for physical therapy, where the jacket could help collect relevant data while monitoring motor functions.

Knitted electronic textiles have seen a lot of interest in the last few years. The integration of biosensors into clothes enables daily physiological monitoring through a continuous and personalized detection of vital signs. In contrast, garments with strain- and stress-sensing capabilities enable tracking the subject’s posture and gestures.

Nisshinbo Textile produces a smart pregnancy belt that can predict a few days in advance when the wearer will go into labor by monitoring the baby’s heartbeat with a small microphone attached to the belt.

Toray Industries is another company exploring the use of its specialty fabric, hitoe conductive fabric, to detect atrial fibrillation.

Toray has also been pursuing specialty fabric offerings for cutting-edge athletic wear. The company has partnered with NTT and NTT DoCoMo to position itself in the healthcare segment.

Smart Fabric with health sensors
Image Credit: Toray

Smart Clothing has also seen emerging interest in the US over the last five years.

The Future Force Warrior research program of the US military is developing a smart battle suit to be introduced by 2020 to include GPS and network communications and sensors to monitor physiological indicators such as heart rate, blood pressure, and hydration.

Piezoelectric sensors (a device that uses the piezoelectric effect to measure changes in pressure, acceleration, temperature, strain, or force by converting them to an electrical charge )  into textile materials can help to provide kinematic analysis, which may be able to correct posture, enhance movements, and reduce injuries.

Moreover, wearable textile sensors are always active for continuous monitoring and provide real-time vital information to track performance.

Athos coaching system is currently offering patented smart clothing to measure how hard your muscle are working during your athletic training. Sensoria is developing smart socks that can help track a variety of active metrics.

As remote health monitoring picks up traction after this current health crisis, we will see new use cases in the application of smart wear and integrated sensors.


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