EXAMPLE: “THE FUTURE WEARS SILVER”
The company: Statex Produktions & Vertriebs GmbH was founded in 1978 and is headquartered in Bremen. It supplies manufacturers of finished products in different sectors. Main areas of focus include intelligent textiles, fabrics, and yarns for use in medicine, EMC screening, and antistatic technology. Another focal area is the development of customer-specific products. Statex Produktions- und Vertriebs GmbH has many years of experience in the production of metal-coated yarns and textile yard goods, which are protected by the trademark Shieldex®. In addition, Statex is the world market leader in the area of metalized yard goods on the basis of polyamide – a status and an obligation.
The problem: Sweaters that measure blood pressure, bandages that check wound healing status, or pockets that prevent digital access to mobile devices? There is a growing demand for so-called smart textiles – items of clothing that can, for example, send signals from mobile devices or transmit electrical signals to stimulate muscles. The requirements for specialized textiles for space flight, government agencies, and medicine are also higher than ever. The manufacturers of yarns for such products must therefore produce more and more, faster and faster. At the same time, however, the standards for quality are high and the coating of the synthetic fibers with metals must be flawless. The problem is that, even before the fibers are coated with silver, it must be possible to estimate success in order to avoid unnecessary costs and environmental impact.
Currently, there are few ways to analyze raw yarns and to identify quality fluctuations before further processing, which, however, is of great importance for the Bremen company Statex. Each year Statex silver-coats about six tons of yarn; again and again, however, it becomes necessary to weed out raw yarns. The reasons for this are often poor physical characteristics of the yarn as well as the use of very water-insoluble finishing agents. In the area of quality assurance, therefore, the company is working together with academia.
The project: The use of Raman spectroscopy for quality assurance at Statex. Put very simply, Raman spectroscopy works like this: “A laser hits an object. The molecules inside reflect most of the light back unchanged. However, the laser light can also release energy to the molecules. They then begin to vibrate. The missing energy is now expressed in color shifts in the scattered light,” explains Professor Arnulf Materny, expert for laser analysis at Jacobs University Bremen and research partner of Statex. “Each molecule has characteristic vibrational energy. It’s like a fingerprint that is now reflected in the altered spectrum of the light colors.” That is precisely why this kind of spectroscopy is so important for Statex.
With his knowledge, his labs, and his sophisticated apparatus, Arnulf Materny offers Statex exactly what they need and he and his employees also have the expertise required to interpret the results correctly. Supported by Wirtschaftsförderung Bremen, the city’s business development agency, he has been working alongside a technician and a research assistant for two years to develop a compact Raman apparatus that is smaller and simpler to operate. To achieve this, the team first had to characterize the chemical properties of the substances that make yarn unusable. Based on the lab results, a corresponding compact device was developed, which is currently being tested. “Now we have to find out whether the results achieved with the large Raman spectrometers of the research lab can also be reproduced with the small apparatus,” says Materny. The next year will then be used to perfect and continue testing the device at the company. “Similar equipment would also be of great interest to other industrial partners facing similar questions.”
The goal: “If we can decrease our reject rate by just five percent, that would be an important benefit for us,” says Sven Böhmer of Statex. That would cut company costs and of course help the environment as well. For Statex, the future is literally hanging by a silver thread.
This venture is as cost-intensive as it is ambitious. Nevertheless, Wirtschaftsförderung Bremen (WFB) is convinced of the expected benefits and funds it.
Like Statex, your company can also benefit from cooperative research with Jacobs University
The project is a good example of how research and industry can profit from one another. Particularly for mid-sized companies, this is interesting because they often have great potential for innovation and can save a lot of money through successful cooperation with academia. “But many companies are seemingly still reluctant to contact academics – or the interfaces are lacking,” says Anke Schlenger, who handles research cooperation with industry at Jacobs University. Not every problem can be solved with the capabilities of the researchers, but unexpectedly simple solutions are often possible as well. This externally funded area of public subsidies and industrial projects already accounts for revenue of twelve million euros for the private university. “However, we are striving for more,” emphasizes the graduate in business administration. Events like the Industry Meets Science forum that was held on the campus of Jacobs University on January 26 by the Bremen Chamber of Industry and Commerce is designed to offer an opportunity for such contacts. ”With its state-of-the-art technologies, Bremen can offer answers to many industry questions.”