Swiss Textile Machinery Companies Look to Growth in Carbon and Glass Fiber Composites

Swiss textile machinery association chairman Ernesto Maurer.

By Adrian Wilson, International Correspondent

The majority of the members of Swissmem’s association of Swiss textile machinery manufacturers have their origins in technology for the processing of cotton fibers, and as the textile industry developed, synthetics.

It has been calculated, in fact, that the association’s 44 members can draw on a staggering 4,011 years of combined engineering and processing know-how between them, but all have greatly diversified over the years.

At a special press conference held in Lucerne, Switzerland, at the end of March – ahead of the huge ITMA 2019 textile machinery exhibition taking place in Barcelona, Spain, from June 20-26 – it became evident that a specific field of intense development for many of these companies, is now in new technology for the production of glass and carbon fabrics, as reinforcement materials for the composites industry.

“Our members have moved into increasingly specialized fields with a focus on advanced concepts, and especially for technical textiles,” said Swissmem’s Chairman Ernesto Maurer, in opening the conference.

Glass Filaments

Saurer, for example, which along with Rieter is one of the two Swiss frontrunners in staple fiber spinning technology and celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019, is achieving healthy sales with its GlassTwister system for the production of glass filaments.

In a huge recent order, it has supplied some 158 of its Volkmann VGT 9 and VGT 11 GlassTwister twisting machines to Linzhou Guangyuan New Material Technology, based in Linzhou, China.

This Chinese company specializes in the production of glass filaments which are turned into composites with epoxy resins, as the standard product for the insulating layers of printed circuit boards (PCBs).

Saurer is enjoying solid
success with its GlassTwister systems for the printed circuit board industry.

Prepregs

Santex Rimar, which will introduce its new Santacompact RD double felt belt compactor for knitted fabrics at ITMA 2019, is also enjoying success with its Cavitec finishing lines for composite prepregs (fabrics already impregnated with resins), which go into parts for the aerospace industry.

The company’s two-stage prepreg finishing process involves the resin impregnation and film lamination of carbon, Kevlar or glass fiber fabrics based on the company’s patented Piezo Gap coating head, for precise application to within a tolerance of 2 microns.

Knitted Preforms

Knitting machinery manufacturer Steiger meanwhile celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, and at ITMA 2019 will introduce the new 3.130 compact knitting machine specifically designed for technical fabrics.

Steiger has recently been experiencing success in the field of knitted preforms for composites, and in one project with the Technical University of Dresden, for example, has successfully developed shaped truck component parts for Volvo. It is also working with a notable luggage brand on a range of the first knitted composite suitcases.

Two impressive projects within Switzerland have seen the development of the 3D-knitted shells to support a five-ton concrete structure as part of the award-winning KnitCandela project and Steiger has also been involved in the design of composite components for the Solar Stratos – the world’s first commercial two-seater solar plane.

The Vega 3.130, being dedicated for the production of technical knitting, has warp and weft insertion for inlay applications of high-performance yarns and a specific cam-box for semi-rigid yarns, as well as adapted sinker kinetics.

The distance between the needle-beds can be specifically adjusted and set and other key features include a special take-down for 3D products and a new system of clamp and scissors with a selectable carriage inversion ramp, for optimized production.

Following its success with these and other projects, Steiger is now opening a new business called Stitchlab, dedicated to composite reinforcements.

Central to developments will be Steiger’s new Model+ software for machine programming, enabling the highest level of automation to be achieved while being the easiest possible system for users. The target has been that even those with no experience of the machines at all should be able to quickly get to grips with it and the aim is to avoid prototyping through simulation, with a huge library that developers can draw on.

Dedicated Line

Autefa is also currently completing the installation of a fourth production line at its technical center over in Linz, Austria, dedicated to the production of materials based on carbon and other advanced fibers for composites.

The new line is part of a €3.5 million investment, aimed not just at trials, but also full-scale production runs for third party OEMs and suppliers, and follows successful developments with partners such as aerospace components specialist FACC.

Autefa reached the milestone of €100 million in sales in 2018 and as a full production line provider to the nonwovens industry, will unveil its latest Futura aerodynamic web forming lines at ITMA 2019.

Knitted composites are employed in the Solar Stratos – the world’s first commercial two-seater solar plane. (Image Solar Stratos)

Rüti AG

The advanced performance properties of carbon fiber, along with the new design possibilities being opened up by 3D printing techniques, have even led to the formation of a new Swissmem company

Rüti AG has yet to make much of a contribution to the 4,011 years of the organization’s combined history, although company founder Gianfranco Di Natale has had many years’ experience in the development of weaving machines for Sulzer, now part of the Italian ITEMA Group, and is a self-confessed “textile technology nerd.”

His premise for the new company is simple: “Sulzer Rüti and Sulzer Textil projectile weaving machines are exceptional in terms of their quality and functionality and over 150,000 of them have been produced over the years,” he explained. “Many have been in use for over 30 years and can potentially go on producing for another 30 to 40 years.”

Rüti AG has developed a conversion kit based on modules for optimizing selected areas of a weaving machine, in order to boost their longevity. These include new projectiles, picking levers, gripper sets and weft tensioners, all made considerably lighter and more resilient than the metal components they are replacing as a result of advanced materials such as carbon fiber.

“These modules can be combined as desired and also individually adapted to a customer’s needs in order to achieve better performance and improved fabric quality, while relieving the areas of the machine most obviously subject to wear,” Di Natale said.

Interaction

“Our members are greatly looking forward to demonstrating such new innovations at ITMA 2019, which as a platform remains as vital as ever,” concluded Ernesto Maurer at the Swissmem press conference. “Nowadays, we have the ability to provide information via any conceivable means, but the success of ITMA exhibitions proves time and again that companies still believe in the value of being able to interact and hold face-to-face meetings.”