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Shima Seiki Haute Technology Laboratory

Exploring the capacity of knit structures and novel materials to push development in wearable technology.

Framing of the research at the Haute Tech Lab

Smart textiles are complex material systems that require large collaborative networks to make them a reality, from fiber to yarn to fabrics. Dynamic collaborations that bring together theoretical and experimental work of academic researchers and industrial partners from diverse disciplines—biotechnol­ogy, medicine, materials science, mechanical engineering, electronics, computer science, textile, product and fashion design—are essential for the successful design, prototyping and production of advanced textile technology. The successful integration of novel fibers and yarns into textile manufacturing processes will require a 21st century multidisciplinary approach that enables precision manufacturing and rapid prototyping, allowing for experimentation with small quantities of new materials prior to being scaled up for full production.

Knitting is the intermeshing of yarns into loops that results into fabrics. Weft knitted textiles are created one row of loops at the time, making it an early form of 3D fabrication that can be done by hand or by computer-controlled knitting machines. The machines have hundreds of needles mechanically forming loops one by one, and dozens of yarn carriers capable of laying small amounts of various materials and/or yarns one row at the time. This type of textile machinery is relatively easy to setup for small batches of materials, making it an ideal candidate for the rapid prototyping and testing of new yarns to be evaluated as a full textile. Additionally, intricate arrangements of loop structures can produce materials with complex behaviors and 3D shapes.

Modern knitting offers unique, programmable fabrication capabilities that are not provided by other known textile systems or 3D manufacturing techniques. Fabrics knitted with several different yarns constitute a modern class of advanced engineering materials having a tremendous potential for actual transformative applications. Computer-controlled knitting offers great promise as a digital, additive manufacturing technology, because of its ability to make novel materials from multiple yarn types and varying loop patterns. Given the enormous flexibility of modern knitting equipment and the variety of yarn materials currently available, knitted structures can now be viewed as a versatile, programmable, multi-scale and microstructure-based engineering material systems. Similar to metamaterials, these knitted structures can be designed and manufactured to meet a wide range of functional and mechanical requirements. Furthermore, due to their flexibility and cloth-like structure, they can be used as material platforms to integrate other devices in ways practically not possible with other types of manufacturing technologies.

The Shima Seiki Haute Tech Lab was established as a multidisciplinary, cross-college laboratory and a partnership with Shima Seiki who donated over $1M of state of the art knitting equipment. We work collaboratively with researchers engaged in activities in the emerging field of smart textiles. The Shima Seiki Haute Tech Lab leverages and focuses the research excellence and scientific and design leadership that Drexel has to offer toward unique collaborations. Academic and industry partnerships aim to foster new business ventures in the United States and help revive local manufacturing. The Shima Seiki Haute Tech Lab is located in the ExCITe Center at Drexel University. ExCITe promotes research and education activities that emphasize the arts-integrated approach to education and research, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Design, and Mathematics).