Mayur Basuk & Amit Sengupta,
Wool Research Association, Thane, MH, India
(Attached to Ministry of Textiles, Govt. of India)
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
India is emerging as significant market for Technical textiles. The Sportech is one of the fast growing sectors of Technical Textile which contributes around 7% of Indian technical textiles market. Sports textile sector is divided in three major categories such as sportswear, sport goods & sport accessories. Further, Sportech comprises of technical textile products used in sports and leisure such as sport shoes, sports composites, flying and sailing sports, parachute fabrics, artificial turf, ballooning fabrics etc. The entire Sportech segment is growing at 8.9 % CAGR. The present article deals with the recent advance in the field of sport textiles and future trends in sport textiles.
Keywords: Sport textiles, Products & Developments, Advances
Sporting technologies are man-made means developed to reach human interests or goals in or relating to a particular sport. Technology in sports is a technical means by which athletes attempt to improve their training and competitive surroundings in order to enhance their overall athletic performance. It is the knowledge and application of using specialised equipment and the latest modern technologies to perform tasks more efficiently. Examples of sporting technologies include golf clubs, tennis rackets, pole vault poles, athletic sports apparels (clothing and footwear), advanced computer stimulations and motion capture.
Sports apparels such as clothing and footwear should be user-friendly and include valuable properties such as strength, flexibility, density, thickness, durability, toughness, resistance to moisture and more importantly cost. Sport Footwear is generally considered more for comfort and injury avoidance rather than performance enhancement, whereas sport clothing such as the full body suits used in swimming are often claimed to rationalise the competitor’s performance times where winning or losing the race is measured in hundredths of a second. Sporting equipment such as the composite tennis racket has been created in order to provide enhanced ball speed, and reduce the potential vibration that can lead to a condition known as tennis elbow.
When developing a new technology, the following points needs to be considered:
- Consumer satisfaction, aesthetics and pleasure in use.
- Consumer safety.
- Diversity of different sports and age groups.
- Environment: extremes of temperature, rain, snow, ultraviolet etc.
- Life time.
- Short development lead-times
Technology has become a more pronounced changing force in the industry. Sporting equipment has been developed with technology features attached, like MP3/ipod sports shoes, the ‘iGallop’ and mini stepper. Sports footwear and apparels are increasingly designed with the help of the latest sports science, with the application of new materials to enhance performance. Increasing worldwide interest and participation in active sports and outdoor leisure pursuits have resulted in strong historical growth in the consumption of textile materials in sporting and related goods and equipment.
Increasing worldwide interest and participation in active sports and outdoor leisure pursuits have resulted in strong historical growth in the consumption of textile materials in sporting and related goods and equipment.
The continuing pursuit of even higher standards of end-user safety and performance is now stimulating the use of higher priced, branded speciality fibres and other materials. Applications of textiles for sport and leisure are extremely diverse, ranging from sportswear to boat covers, tents or high performance composite.
There has been a strong growth in the development and use of highly functional materials in sportswear and outdoor leisure clothing. The performance requirements of many such products demand the balance of widely different properties of drape, thermal insulation, barrier to liquids, antistatic, stretch, physiological comfort, etc. The fabrics for active wear and sportswear are also specially constructed both in terms of the geometry, packing density and structure of the constituent fibres in yarns and in terms of the construction of the fabric in order to achieve the necessary dissipation of heat and moisture at high metabolic rates. Many smart double-knitted or double-woven fabrics have been developed for sportswear in such a way that their inner face, close to human skin, has optimal moisture wicking and sensory properties whereas the outer face of the fabric has optimal moisture dissipation behavior.
Sportech segment comprises of technical textile products used in sports and leisure. The technical textile products covered under Sportech are as below:
- Sports Composites
- Artificial turf
- Parachute Fabrics
- Ballooning fabrics
- Sail cloth
- Sleeping bags
- Sport nets
- Sport shoes components
- Developments in sport textile products
2.1 Sports Composites
Sports composites usage in India includes boxing equipments, inflatable balls and protective equipments for cricket. Boxing equipments consist of Boxing Gloves, Boxing Punching Gloves, Boxing Head Guards, Boxing Punching Pads, Abdominal Guard, Speed Ball, Punching Bag etc. Inflatable balls consist of football, volleyball, basketball, handball etc. Footballs account for 50% of the market of inflatable balls. Footballs have varying sizes i.e. Size-3, Size-4 and Size-5. Circumference for size 5 is 68.5cm to 69.5cm. Official weight of the football is 420~445 grams with ball pressure of 0.8 bar. Protective equipments for cricket comprise of leg-guards, batting gloves, wicket keeping gloves, thigh pads, helmets, caps & hats, cricket kit bags etc
Indian sporting goods industry is concentrated primarily in the cottage and small-scale sector. It is a highly labour intensive industry and also employs a large number of women as well Most of the units work on a job work basis for the major manufacturers/exporters and also sell their produce to wholesalers who in turn sell these equipments to sports goods retailers.
A delicate balance is maintained between the need for tradition and the desire for new technologies now a day. Sport equipment research can be divided into four generations or eras. They are characterized by physical fit, equipment fit, system fit and biological fit. The first generation of sport equipment was focused on altering the ‘physical fit’ of the equipment to match human capabilities and limitations its overall goal was to increase human physical efficiency. For generation 2, equipment design contained a significant component of material science and engineering. This major impact of advanced materials in innovative designs can be seen in various sports, including tennis with its graphite fibre reinforced polymer rackets, golf with its tungsten weighted clubs, and vaulting with its metal matrix composite inserts and glassy metal inserts in vaulting poles. Generation 3 was concerned with human systems integration. During this era, more sport scientists (or human motion analysts) became involved in the evaluation and optimization of sport equipments. By this time, it was becoming increasingly clear that there is a limit to purely engineering solutions; thus factors of human performance were explored for equipment optimization. The fourth generations of sport equipment will likely focuses on biologically altering or modifying human physical capabilities to maximize the effectiveness of human performance. There will likely be a marked shift from building better engineering solutions to enhancing biological functions for better performance. While generation 3 is currently focused on identifying optimized equipments through human motion analysis tests, generation 4 will likely attempt a tightly coupled neural fit between equipments and human motor skills.
Tennis manufacturers are now designing racquets with comfort as well as power. Previously, racquets had been designed to be stiff so that they return maximum energy to the ball when it is hit but this means that the racquet transmits shock vibration to the player’s arm. In an attempt to reduce vibration, piezoelectric fibres have been embedded around the racquet throat and a computer chip embedded inside the handle.
In pole vaulting, bamboo and aluminium poles have been replaced with carbon fibre composites. This makes the pole light and highly flexible but also stiff and torsion-resistant with minimal energy loss. Fishing gear is also made from carbon fibre composites with glass fibres which provide flexural strength, vibration transmittance, torque (torsion) resistance and transverse strength. New generation bicycles have been produced from carbon fibre composites combined with titanium while the carbon fibre composites gives relatively high vibration transmittance with good fatigue resistance, and low vibration transmittance (good shock absorption), and titanium gives low fatigue resistance. This results in combining high fatigue resistance with increased shock absorption, while the overall weight remains low.
Golf clubs are made lighter, longer and have a bigger head by constructing from graphite reinforced epoxy, boron fibres and titanium. This results in greater club head speeds because of the long arc and straighter shots. Baseball/softball is made of hybrid constructions with carbon fibre reinforced composite and honeycomb aluminium in a double-wall design.
The former provides strength and stiffness but is thought to reduce ball speed compared with aluminium, while the latter provides a weight reduction combined with increased flexural stiffness. The use of carbon fibre reinforced composite frames in tennis rackets results in high stiffness and corresponding efficiency. To reduce the high-frequency vibrations upon impact, racket handles may be constructed by wrapping multiple fibre reinforced layers around a soft core of injected PUR or a honeycomb construction.
Kayaks are constructed of a combination of carbon fibre cloth, Kevlar and epoxy resins. This stiff design minimizes the amount of energy wasted in flexing as the hull passes through the water, thus making this energy available for maintaining the maximum possible speed with weight reduction as well. Skis and snowboards are reinforced with carbon (strong, fatigue resistant), Kevlar (impact resistant) and graphite (vibration resistant) while ice hockey sticks can be made of nylon/carbon composite which provides toughness, durability and shock resistance. Smart skis incorporate vibration control technology. When skiing at high speeds and on tough terrain, skis tend to vibrate, lessening the contact area between the ski edge and the snow surface. This results in reduced stability and control and decreases the skier’s speed. The technology employed by smart skis overcomes these limitations by utilizing a clever design and the integration of piezoelectric sensors and an actuator control system.
DuPont and Nike have collaborated to develop a transformational golf ball core that adds distance, straightens shots and improves control. Dupont has also developed innovative polymers for sporting goods in the past like a new insole for hiking boots is developed which is over moulded with hytrel thermoplastic polyester elastomer &, Zytel super tough is developed which is used as a device to enable mountain bikers to ride over obstacles. It consists of triangular shaped frame and a two part mountain bracket, the frame fills the void between the wheels thus enables the biker to slide over an obstacle. A detachable plate system for inline roller skates from Zytel super tough resin is also invented to make the ice blade support, Delrin tough acetal resins to make the interface part clipped onto the shoe. Dupont brand Delrin for buckles and hytrel for the straps is used in snow shoe bindings. A device between goggles & lightweight sunglasses is developed by dupont in the brand name of Delrin for the front frame, hytrel for the rear frame, the front arms & the rear arms.
In other sporting equipment such as the golf club, the overall mass of the club has decreased which is believed to result in a greater achievable distance and possibly a more precise shot. The bicycle has also undergone modern day advances with the development of specialist wheels, pneumatic tyres, break levers and pedals, which are all aimed at increasing stability and rigidity of the bicycle. Prosthetic devices have also been constructed for those athletes with a specific disability. Examples include the springlite prosthesis device created for those athletes deficient of a lower limb, which acts with a ‘springboard-like’ effect where with each step as the runner strikes the track, the device returns energy and permits running gait. The reduced mass of the springlite device compared to that of the earlier wooden prosthesis is firm yet supple for sprinters, and provides some shock absorbing properties for marathon runners. Wheelchair devices used in sporting activities have also become more sophisticated, for example, with sharply slanted back wheels in tennis to allow the player to move swiftly across the court from side to side.
2.2 Artificial turf
Artificial turf or synthetic turf is a man-made surface manufactured from synthetic materials with appearance similar to natural grass. It is used for making world-class surfaces for playing sports (especially hockey and soccer) which are normally played on grass. It is also used indoors or outdoors for landscaping. Artificial turf is considered a safe alternative to natural grass;
The system consists of various layers – the pile fibers & backing cloth, shock absorbing layer and the supporting base. The foam is made of a closed-cell polymer alloy like polyurethane, typically 1/2 inch in height and perforated for vertical drainage.
The hockey stadiums account for most of the consumption of artificial turf in India. It also finds use in use indoor or outdoor las, Balconies, Atriums, Home and Corporate Lawns, Hotels and Resorts, Club Houses, Jogging / Walking Tracks, Shopping Malls, Traffic Islands, Road Medians, Kids‘ play area etc.
The artificial turf system consists of various layers – the pile fibers & backing cloth, shock absorbing layer and the supporting base.
- Pile Fiber – The grass like piles are non abrasive and soft to touch. The synthetic grass is made of either the polyamide nylon/nylon 6.6 or PP/PE, which is custom extruded into a monofilament ribbon form. The pile fiber has to allow for smooth ball roll and bounce, support non-directional foot traction, allow for water permeability and should have the correct balance of strength, elasticity and stiffness to withstand the wear and tear of regular usage.
- Backing Fabric – the material to which surface fibers are attached to form the underside of the artificial turf surface. The backing has to permit water to flow through the fabric readily.
- Shock-Absorbing Foam – provides cushioning for running or falling athletes. The foam is made of a closed-cell polymer alloy like polyurethane, typically 1/2 inch in height and perforated for vertical drainage
- Supporting Base – supports the load placed on the entire structure, typically a 2-feet or 3-feet layer of asphalt or concrete.
Installation and maintenance are very crucial for the performance of Artificial Turf. For ground installations, a good quality sub-base is very important. The turf suppliers provide these services themselves. Turf generally lasts at least a decade and requires no mowing, watering or fertilization.
The use of artificial turf for sport surfaces has seen an enormous increase in recent years. The reasons for this are various and artificial turf is increasingly being used for soccer applications, especially with the development of the so-called `third-generation’ artificial turf consisting of artificial fibres tufted on a backing with an infill of sand and rubber granules. Many good results have already been obtained with fibres of the right geometry, a good behaviour in resilience and resistance to fibrillation. The temperature profile during sliding is very important for the comfort of the player and avoiding burn wounds in combination with other characteristics of the artificial turf, such as shock absorption, energy restitution and quality of the yarns.
For the future, a better insight will be obtained in the relationship between the fibre structure and resilience and resistance to fibrillation. This will lead to possible developments of polymers with better properties, maybe used in multilayered artificial grass blades, and much better control of the processing of these polymers.
The future generation of artificial turf fields will be based on two types of fibres, one that is standing upwards and another that will be constructed of crimped fibres without infill of rubber particles. This will increase the demand for playing on artificial turf fields.
2.3 Parachute Fabrics
A parachute is a device used to slow the descent of a falling body or load. A parachute consists of four main components: parachute canopy, rip-cords, suspension lines and the harness. Parachute canopies are primarily made of high tensile nylon multi-filament fibres, generally ripstop woven, from 32 to 200 deniers. Harness, webbing, tapes etc are made-up of high tensile nylon yarn (denier range 210 to 840 denier) as nylon has the highest strength to weight ratio.
Parachutes can be broadly classified into three categories based on usage: Defence, aero-sports and space vehicles. The parachutes applications in defence are Emergency Escape Parachute Assemblies for aircrafts with fixed seats or assisted, escape seats; Personnel Restraint Harness for seated or moving crew members, Airborne Forces Parachute Assemblies including Reserve parachutes, Aerial Delivery (Supply Dropping) Parachute Assemblies, Aircraft Landing Brake and Anti-Spin Parachute Assemblies, Parachute devices for flares, markers, bombs and other munitions. Parachutes are used in aero sports like parasailing/ parascending (the person is towed behind a vehicle and attains flight of hundreds of feet above ground), Sky diving etc .
A parachute consists of four main components: parachute canopy, rip-cords, suspension lines and the harness.
- Parachute canopy: It is the fabric used in parachute
- Harness – The pack is fastened to the person’s back or front with a harness. The harness is specially constructed so that the parachutist is not injured as the forces of deceleration (slowing down), gravity and wind are transmitted to the wearer’s body as the chute opens.
- Rip-cord – A rip-cord is used to open the duck pack and allow the chute to deploy (pop out). The rip-cord can be used in three different ways (pulling the rip manually, a static line connected to the aircraft deploys the chute as the person jumps or automatically as the pilot is ejected from the aircraft).
- Suspension lines – Suspension lines, or shrouds, connect the canopy (parachute cloth) to a ring on the harness. The line is continuous from the ring, through a seam in the shroud over the top of the chute and back down to the ring again.
Parachute canopies are primarily made of high tensile nylon multi-filament fibres, generally ripstop woven, from 32 to 200 deniers. Ripstop fabrics are woven fabrics whilst using a special reinforcing technique that makes them very resistant to tearing and ripping. Older lightweight ripstop fabrics display the thicker interlocking thread patterns in the material quite prominently, but modern weaving techniques make the ripstop threads less obvious. Ripstop fabrics have high strength to weight ratio. The smaller tears and rips cannot easily spread further in the fabric. Air-permeability is one of the most important characteristics because it determines the behaviour of the parachute itself, the rate of descent depends dramatically on this characteristic. The fabric should be of minimal thickness to enable folding of the parachute into a bag. Harness, webbing, tapes etc are made-up of high tensile nylon yarn (denier range 210 to 840 denier) as nylon has the highest strength to weight ratio .
Now a day, paragliding is gaining much importance in western countries. The main function of parachute is to land safely now parachutes are being developed which can be used to land from very low height
2.4 Ballooning fabrics
There are two basic fabrics from which balloon envelopes are manufactured – nylon or polyester. In Europe, nylon fabrics are primarily used for balloons because it is the material that both Carrington and Luckenhaus make and these two companies provide the fabric for most of the European balloon manufacturers. American balloonists are more familiar with the choice between nylon and polyester because a few American manufacturers use polyester.
The nylon balloon envelope is made of nylon multifilament in the denier range of 32 to 200 deniers which are generally ripstop woven. Ripstop fabrics are woven fabrics whilst using a special reinforcing technique that makes them very resistant against tearing and ripping. During weaving (thick) reinforcement threads are interwoven at regular intervals in a crosshatch pattern in the fabric. The intervals at which reinforcement threads are interwoven are typically 5 to 8 millimetres (0.2 to 0.3 in) apart. Thin or lightweight ripstop fabrics get a 3 dimensional structure due to the thicker threads being interwoven in thinner cloth. Older lightweight ripstop-fabrics display the thicker interlocking thread patterns in the material quite prominently, but more modern weaving techniques make the ripstop threads less obvious.
Advantages of ripstop fabrics are – the favourable weight to strength ratio and that smaller tears and rips cannot easily spread further in the fabric. The fabric (or at least part of it, the top 1/3 for example) may be coated with a sealer, such as silicone or polyurethane, to make it impermeable to air. It is often the degradation of this coating and the corresponding loss of impermeability that ends the effective life of an envelope, not weakening of the fabric itself. Heat, moisture, and mechanical wear-and-tear during set up and pack up are the primary causes of degradation. These fabrics have a GSM of 150 to 250. Bandhu Aerospace is importing these fabrics from UK and USA
2.5 Sail cloth
The performance of a sail depends on two crucial aspects: Sail Design and Sail cloth. The sail cloths are tightly woven fabrics and mostly made of Polyester and polyamides like Nylon. These fabrics have a GSM of 200-600. Some of the high value sail cloths are laminated using sheets of PET.
An ideal sail cloth should have the following properties:
- Tear resistance
- Modulus of elasticity: stretch resistance per weight
- High Tensile strength or tenacity
- High breaking strength per unit weight
- Good Creep properties (the long term stretch of a fibre or fabric)
- UV Resistance
2.6 Sleeping bags
A sleeping bag is product that come under sport technical textile domain & act as a protective “bag” for a person to sleep in and uses while camping, hiking, hill-walking or climbing during adventure sports & high altitude sports, camping, mountaineering etc. Its primary purpose is to provide warmth and thermal insulation at high altitudes in extremely cold weather. It also protects against wind chill, precipitation, etc. A typical sleeping bag uses around 7 linear metres of fabric and 1.5-4 kg of filling material based on the field conditions. Several insulating materials are used for making sleeping bags .
Recently, a project study is undertaken by Wool Research Association, Thane to develop a smart indigenous sleeping bag with heating property for adventure/high altitude sports. At present the existing sleeping bags are having extreme temperature ranges up to -20oC, but this range is not adequate to provide thermal comfort at very low temperature zones like siachin glacier (-40oC), Himalayan region. Hence, this project aims to develop a smart indigenous sleeping bag having heating property so that it can provide adequate warmth and thermal comfort to the person even at below -20oC. Development of such an efficient and low weight sleeping bag will help the sports persons for adventure sports at high altitude and also to the defense personnel serving in unfriendly terrain at Himalaya.
2.7 Sport nets
Sports nets are made of HDPE, PP or nylon. HDPE is the most widely used material for making sports nets. The Mesh opening can be square or hexagonal depending upon the end use requirements. The bulky nets like football and cricket nets are packaged in the form of rolls.
2.8 Sport shoes components
Textiles are part of the shoes on the uppers (lining, body, shoelaces and other closures), soles (footbed, strobel layer). The shoes are also reinforced with fibres like Kevlar and breathable waterproof laminates depending upon the end use .
The technical textile components typically used inthe sport shoes are:
a) Shoe uppers made of PU/PVC coated/Laminated fabrics.
b) Linings are on the counters and below the shoe uppers.
C) Others including non woven insoles, laces, tapes, labels, elastics, sandwiched meshes, etc The shoe upper material should have uniform thickness and color and should possess water-proofing property. The shoe uppers and linings account for 90-95% of the technical textile components used. The desired characteristics of the shoe uppers are:
- Dimensional flexibility
- Color fastness
- Light weight
Dupont has developed innovative shoe sole for sport shoes which is made with Zytel nylon resins.
A study was done to develop Cotton canvas tent fabric having GSM 360 with water repellent as well as flame retardant finish .
Pure cotton canvas and polyester cotton blended canvas (Polyester/cotton 30/70 or 50/50) are the most widely used material for making tents. Canvas cloths of 8-15 Oz per square yard are generally used for tents. The tent fabric requires qualities range from flame retardancy and water pressure resistance to antimicrobial properties and mosquito repellency.
The camping tents are generally made of synthetic materials as they have a higher strength to weight ratio. Nylon is a very popular material because of its excellent strength, abrasion resistance, ease of drying, flexibility and resistance to attack by insects and micro-organisms. The fabric is woven ripstop when rip proof tents are desired. Nylon, which is also used in the hot-air ballooning and parachute industries, is primarily utilized in fabrication of dome tents and ridge tents.
Water proofing is commonly imparted by a coating of paraffin emulsion and alum acetate. Synthetic fabrics like nylon are coated with one or more polyurethane coatings in order to provide waterproofing. The flame retardant tents are generally made of polyester and have a vinyl coating.
Besides the outer part of tent, fabric is also used as tent lining and ground sheets. The standard lining for a canvas tent is a “desouti” or cotton lining. This is generally made from 20×20 or 16×16 denier cotton yarn with 32 threads per inch in the warp and 32 threads per square inch in the weft. Lining of non-woven synthetic insulation layer of 4mm terylene weighing 500 GSM is reported to be used by some manufacturers in western countries.
Groundsheets are either separate from an inner tent or sewn in as an integral part of the tent giving wind and water proofing. The ground sheets are made of LDPE coated woven polypropylene (175-200 gsm), PVC coated canvas fabric (500 gsm) or waxed cotton canvas fabric (440 gsm)
Swimsuit manufacturers like to introduce new swimsuits made from different types of fabric into the market in order to produce unique swimsuit. The key fabrics used for swimsuit manufacturing are:
a) Cotton: Swimsuits and bikinis made entirely from cotton are becoming popular. While cotton swimsuits are fashionable, they do not always provide the best fit or the greatest overall longevity in a swimsuit. Cotton swimsuits are not known for staying in place on the body, and they have a tendency to ride up and bunch (an undesirable characteristic in any swimsuit). As a fabric, cotton does not stand up long to the destructive nature of chlorine and sun. It is likely that cotton swimsuit will fade fairly quickly, especially if swimming in chlorinated pools.
b) Spandex/Lycra: Most swimsuits contain some percentage of spandex or Lycra in their fabric. These fabrics provide the stretchy fit that allows a swimsuit to stay in place on the body. Generally, the higher the percentage of spandex or Lycra in the swimsuit material, the more the swimsuit is designed for more serious or competitive swimming. While high-spandex materials cover the body well and smooth out any unsightly body bulges, they can become tight and uncomfortable. Also, spandex has a tendency to run if snagged on the side of a concrete pool or on a wooden lounge chair. Suits made from spandex and provide little thermal protection, but they do protect the skin from stings and abrasion. Because high-spandex swimsuits are designed for use in serious and competitive swimming pursuits, however, they are often treated for chlorine resistance. While this chlorine resistance does not provide complete protection from chlorine, it does significantly lengthen the lifetime of the swimsuit.
c) Metallic Overlay: Swimsuits with metallic overlay sewn into the fabric are designed to be fashionable and not to hold up and endure extensive swimming. The overlay is guaranteed to fray and dull after only a short amount of time.
d) Velvet: Swimsuits made from velvet and other types of crushed fabrics have become more popular in recent years. A velvet swimsuit is definitely nice to look at and to touch, but it is not best for either swimsuit fit or longevity. When wet, velvet has a tendency to soak up water, and can become quite heavy and sodden. This heaviness causes a velvet swimsuit to sag away from the body, losing the tight fit that is so necessary in a swimsuit. Also, velvet is not a fabric meant to come in close contact with chlorine. Like swimsuits with metallic overlay, velvet swimsuits are much more valuable for their uniqueness and style factors than they are for their longevity.
Swim briefs are most often made of a nylon and spandex (Lycra) composite, while some longer lasting suits are made from polyester and still others from other materials. Most swim briefs have beige or white front lining made of a similar fabric.
Kneeskins and bodyskins are normally made of technologically advanced lycra-based fabrics designed to hug the body tightly and provide increased speed and decreased drag resistance in the water.
The LZR Racer Suit is a line of high-end swim suits manufactured by Speedo using a high-technology swimwear fabric composed of woven elastane-nylon and polyurethane. The Speedo FASTSKIN3 Racing System offers unrivalled benefits to swimmers, including a full body passive drag reduction of up to 16.6%, an 11% improvement in the swimmer’s oxygen economy enabling them to swim stronger for longer, and a 5.2% reduction in body active drag, to create the world’s fastest cap, goggle and suit ever. With a distinctive and futuristic design that considers both the physiology and psychology of the elite swimmer, the Speedo FASTSKIN3 Racing System enhances the hydrodynamic efficiency and comfort, while improving the athlete’s focus to perform.
The Speedo FASTSKIN3 Super Elite Swimsuit incorporates an innovative 3D Zoned Compression fabric system throughout, sculpting the swimmer’s body to create the most efficient and hydrodynamic swimming shape in the water, reducing skin friction drag by up to 2.7%. The system incorporates revolutionary Hydro KZone 3D fabric which provides high power, graduated compression throughout, helping to achieve the optimum hydrodynamic profile. This is complemented by Pulse-Flex fabric used on the shoulders and panels, offering high stretch in one direction to couple freedom of movement with powerful compression.
- Future Trends in Sport tech
In addition to the innovations in highly functional man-made fibre-based fabrics, advances have also been made in cotton and wool fabrics for sportswear. An example is the development of ‘Sportwool’ weatherproof technology, where the constituent fibre, yarn and fabric properties and the fabric finishes of ‘Sportwool’ are supposed to create a drier and cooler microclimate.
Few decades back, Gore-Tex fabric, a variety of lightweight breathable highly functional fabrics, has been developed worldwide. Highly functional fabrics are generally characterized as being waterproof/moisture permeable, sweat absorbing and with high thermal insulation at low thickness values. These fabrics are now extensively used in making sportswear and sports shoes. One can say that these products are basically complex materials with diverse functions. In many of these products, the requirements of comfort and fashion have successfully been integrated with segmentation in uses.
The structure and functions of natural biological materials are precise and well defined. The imitation of living systems, ‘biomimetics, could make it possible in future to replicate the molecular design and morphology of natural biological materials since their structure and functions are related. Already in many laboratories around the world, R&D work is going on in the field of biomimetic chemistry and fabric formation. A typical example is the development of water- and soil-repellent fabrics produced by imitating the surface structure of a lotus leaf. Water rolls like mercury from the lotus leaf, whose surface is microscopically rough and covered with a wax-like substance with low surface tension. When water is dropped on to the surface of a lotus leaf, air is trapped in the dents and forms a boundary with water.
The intelligent textiles and interactive materials in the Sportswear sector readily interact with human/environmental conditions thereby creating changes in the material properties. For example, the phase change materials and shape-memory polymers embedded in fabric layers will be able to interact with a human body and produce thermoregulatory control by affecting the microclimate between the clothing and the human skin. In addition to the two dimensions of functionality and aesthetics, if ‘intelligence’ can be embedded or integrated into clothing as a third dimension, it would lead to the realization of protective and safety clothing as a personalized wearable information infrastructure. Soft-switch technology allows the introduction of electrical circuitry and communication systems to be built into the garment. GPS (global positioning systems) life-saving technology can be built into skiwear so that avalanche victims have a better chance of survival. These are just some of the advances in intelligent textiles with many more developments to come in near future. With the increasing interest in wearable electronic systems, new conductive materials have been developed for sensing, actuating and signal transmission. Conductive components (metal, carbon or metal salt particles) can be added to the textiles in all stages of the production process (fibre, yarn and fabric formation, coating) using conventional or new techniques.
Sophisticated sportswear and footwear specifically designed for different user categories of performance sports and outdoor leisure activities helps to speed the runner, keep the jogger dry and cool, streamline the swimmer, protect the cricketer, hockey player and snowboarder, keep the football player and cyclist dry, and keep the user comfortable and warm in extreme weather conditions. The functional design of newly developed sportswear and sports footwear has a strong impact on leisurewear and leisure footwear as well.
Highly functional coated and laminated fabrics are now commercially available which are aesthetically attractive, breathable yet with the desired barrier characteristics against the external elements. These fabrics are engineered by using either microporous or hydrophilic membranes, and the water vapour transmission through these membranes is achieved by the physical processes of adsorption, diffusion and desorption.
The rise of all-in-one suits in competition swimming and running, now spreading to winter sports and high-level athletics, is introducing new shapes and volumes to first-layer garments in general. The development of seamless and stitch less manufacturing processes is also opening new design options by making it possible to create garments combining several functions in a single, smooth layer to respond to the specific needs of each body part.
The emergence of stitchless garment construction techniques is introducing novel design features to outerwear. The switch to garments that do away with stitching altogether and are entirely heat-sealed is the next step in advanced garment design. The latest generation of high-tech garments is now totally devoid of sewn seams. Bonding is replacing sewing and making close-fitting styles even more streamlined. Laser-cut edges, watertight zippers and trimming can now be compressed into a single indivisible bonded layer. Hems that no longer need to be folded reduce added thicknesses at corners and hems. Using lighter weight fibers, hollow or microfine fibers and textiles are some of the many directions garment manufacturing has taken to reduce bulk and weight. The introduction of watertight zippers has made it possible to forgo wind and rain flaps, at least in medium-level performance outerwear. A waterproof jacket designed to withstand heavy rain will always need storm flaps, but not all garments need to hold up to extreme climate conditions. Pockets are now often lined with mesh to offer the double function of storage and ventilation.
Innovation in design is a matter not only of adding to but also of removing or reducing. Trimming options also have advanced recently. Heat-sealed pockets, straps, flaps, etc. can now dispense with added layers formerly required for hemming and sewing purposes.
Tomorrow’s consumers will be increasingly used to mixing sport and city garments, which will be considered largely interchangeable. Functional detailing and features will no longer be sufficient sales arguments within the context of a broader product offering. This is where a garment’s cut and design become critical.
Nanotechnology is considered to give an enormous push to technical properties in textiles such as electrical conductivity, magnetic susceptibility, interaction with light, photonics, chemical protection, friction control, electricity, abrasion resistance, waste water and oil repellence, soil release, biocompatibility, etc., of existing products and as an innovative basis for new products. Tailoring and controlling of structures on a nanoscale level are considered to be key factors for the development of advanced materials or structural components and multifunctional applications. Some of the important developments in the R&D of nanostructured coating are sol-gel techniques (dirt-repellent and anti-static properties), metallization and layers with ceramics, polymer coating by plasma (antistatic properties) etc.
The usefulness of composites in sports gear depends upon the intended end-use. Some applications require good shock (and thus energy) absorption, whereas others require a minimal energy loss in order to generate high speeds. Most of the time, a balance between several more or less contradictory requirements has to be sought. The eventual properties of the product depend upon the materials used, the design and the production technology.
Several products are designed to improve the comfort of the wearer and some products such as breathable waterproof fabrics such as Gore-Tex® and moisture-management textiles that wick moisture away from the skin such as Coolmax® are commercially available. Gore-Tex® fabric utilises a membrane of poly(tetrafluoroethylene)(PTFE) having pores of less than 1 ìm in diameter, allows water vapor to penetrate the material, but prevent the passage of liquid and facilitates body’s natural thermoregulatory function.
Phase-change technology is another technology which helps in maintaining constant body temperature. Here phase changing materials (PCMs) absorb, store, and release heat as the material changes phase from solid to liquid and back to solid. Usually, microencapsulation process is employed to capture small amounts of phase change material in a polymer shell so that it is permanently enclosed and protected. These microcapsules can then be applied as a finishing on fabrics or infused into fibers during the manufacturing process.
Nanoencapsulation is an emerging field which uses nanocapsules with more desirable characteristics than microcapsules which will possess greater application in sports textile.
There is another emerging new area of research that will have a major impact for sports performance and involves integrating chemical sensors into textiles. Several researches have been going on in biosensor field especially on real-time analysis of the various constituents in sweat. The approach being taken is to integrate electrochemical and optical sensors within a textile substrate, enabling the direct collection of sweat from a large body surface area.
The target analytes include sodium, chloride, pH, sweat rate, and sweat conductivity in addition to monitoring cardiac and respiratory functions. This is of particular interest in sports applications where rehydration strategy plays a critical role in the recovery process after exercise. It is important not only to replace volume losses due to sweat, but also electrolytes. These factors are highly variable among individuals, and current techniques are impractical, involving sweat patches that must be sent to a laboratory for analysis. BIOTEX is developing a wearable system incorporating a fluid handling platform based on moisture-wicking fabrics and nonwoven super absorbent textiles. The sensing elements are integrated within the fabric’s fluidic channels to monitor the sweat composition. Control electronics and wireless data transmission allow real-time analysis of the signal and gives feedback to the wearer regarding their well-being, making individuals more aware of their personal healthcare needs.
Adidas miCoach Elite System was included within Adidas’s Olympic Performance Sports Bra . It has also been introduced to football to help with coaching and game monitoring. For this, the miCoach Elite System includes a small data cell that fits in a protective pocket located within the back of a player’s base layer, between the shoulder blades. EnergearTM is an entirely new textile technology from Schoeller. It ensures that the energy radiated by the body is reflected back to the wearer. This development uses the ancient knowledge of the capacity of certain minerals to reflect back heat energy rays. L2 THERMO technology creates enhanced and rapid thermal insulation, heat storage and re-emission. It further enhances the blood circulation, thus stimulating cellular metabolism with its associated beneficial health effects. The technology used both in filaments, fibres and layers, is designed for high performance sportswear, sleepwear, work wear, garments or underwear. Garments made with L2 THERMO have insulation
properties and rapid warming from an increase of +5°C to over amazing +22°C, depending on the percentage of L2 master batches used in virgin materials. LITRAX provides L2 THERMO master batches for polyamide, polyester, polypropylene and building materials. [1
Technologies such as CAD (Computer Aided Design) can play a major role in the improvement of sporting equipment. CAD allows virtual design and testing techniques to be applied to all aspects of sport and leisure equipment research and development. CAD offers an efficient means of considering and assessing new products and ideas, and is primarily used to improve safety, comfort and effectiveness of specialised sports equipment. CAD is also used regularly in the justification of physical facts and figures, and for both competitive and training circumstances. Other technologies such as ‘smart’ equipment can be used to evaluate human performance. These include sensors and computers as part of their utility and can be used by athletes as part of their training regime. Examples of ‘smart’ equipment technologies include devices used for exercise stress testing and cardiovascular assessment, human reaction time and frequency of movement meters, and jump and run characteristics devices. More modern technologies such as motion capture analysis are also used to analyse athletic performance. This involves digitally recording the movements of athletes during sporting activities which can then be used for personal performance evaluation by the sports person, for enhanced spectator entertainment, and in some cases medical treatment.
The use of modern technologies in sport may mean that competition at the uppermost level is only affordable to the leading top athletes due to the potential high costs of specialised sports equipment. In those sports incorporating individuals with a particular disability, there are a variety of methods in which assistance can be given. For example, modifications to buildings can be made to make them wheelchair accessible, specialised equipment can also be produced and training to sports members can be offered in order to give specific assistance to those with a disability. The Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute within the University of Ulster aim to facilitate, co-ordinate and carry out high quality research, and promote a vibrant culture of research and scholarship with the university, health providers, government bodies and other centers of excellence. The group encompasses several areas of research to include adolescent lifestyle and health, health benefits of physical activity, social sciences of sport, sport and exercise psychology, physiology and biomechanics, and sport technology.
Sport products which are relating specifically to micro-electronics integration, expected to mature significantly in the foreseeable future, with widespread commercial applications in the followings:
- Textile sensors for pulse / posture monitoring
- Soft controls for operation of consumer electronics
- Solar panels on a textile substrate for charging consumer electronics
- Textile integrated LED’s for lighting functions
- Soft displays for a variety of fun and alerting applications
- Textile heating / cooling elements for temperature regulation
- Performance fibres / textiles for reinforcement and monitoring of architectural structures
While trends in use of smart textiles in sports applications are readily identifiable for all, cost of development will be less.
- Concluding remarks
Recent developments in sport textiles have created a variety of products aimed at improving and increasing athletic performance. Athletic health can be maintained and observed, and injuries treated, through the production of modern sporting technologies such as heart rate monitors, pedometers and body-fat monitors. Through this, a greater deepened knowledge of the human body and its potential has been recognized, allowing athletes to train and compete in sports to a much older age. Participant safety at all times has also been made possible through the development of certain sporting products & equipment, such as helmets and body protection which are used in boxing and ice hockey to help prevent injuries. Modern sporting technologies have also made competition judging easier and more accurate, and spectator interest and excitement is enhanced by broadcasting and in-stadium displays (scoreboards).
The innovation and research in the field of sports will be helpful for sport persons so that sports will be safer for them and comfort provided by the innovative sport products will result in the better sport performance.
The authors of this article are thankful to the Management & Director, Wool Research Association (Attached to Ministry of Textiles, Govt. of India) for their continuous support, valuable guidance & inputs.
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