Neatly knitted

Fibre technology based on a natural model

Whoever thinks that knitting is old-fashioned is wide of the mark. More and more products are being made out of a variety of materials using 3D knitting – and in very different industries. Flexibility and stability combined with an effective and environmentally friendly production process are just a few benefits of this innovative technology.

Office chairs, safety gloves, bandages and sports shoes have one thing in common: they are made using an innovative technology, i.e. 3D knitting. Which type of yarn is used depends on the area of application. It is possible to knit with metal or glass fibres as well as textile fibres. In future, technical knitted fabrics are expected to be increasingly used as materials for airplanes and cars or for building bridges.

The major advantage of this production technology is that both rigid and flexible areas can be incorporated within a single part. For example, a knitted shoe can adapt better to the movement of the foot than standard footwear. At the same time, the stiff zones in the knitted structure give the foot stability in places where it is needed. Knitting with a lightweight yarn compound also gives the shoe a low weight.

Efficient and environmentally friendly production method

The technology also proves its worth from an environmentally friendly point of view. It doesn't create any waste products and some knitting techniques no longer have a need for additional production steps, such as sewing parts together. As the fibres of the textile upper shoe are already woven together, the knitted minimalist shoe does not need any seams, for example.

Taking a close look at animal muscles

A 3D knitted fabric also provides a suitable structure for the Festo BionicMotionRobot. When developing the bionic robot arm, the engineers looked closely at the muscle fibre of an octopus’ tentacle.

The muscles in the tentacles consist of several layers and run in different directions. The interaction of radial, diagonal and longitudinal fibres allows the octopus to purposefully control its tentacles. Inside the pneumatic robot arm is a 3D fabric that is based on this natural role model.

3D knitting technology in the BionicMotionRobot

The knitted fabric surrounds small, elastic air chambers along the robot arm. The chambers are activated by compressed air and can fold together or expand like an accordion, thus moving the arm. This is where the fabric shell of the air chambers comes in. Similar to the muscle fibres in the octopus, the elastic and rigid strands loop through the chambers in a special pattern. The textile structure thus determines where the robot arm extends and thus develops power, and where extension is prevented. This enables the BionicMotionRobot to move both powerfully and quickly as well as softly and precisely.

The natural forms of movement mean that the BionicMotionRobot can be used for various tasks and work together safely with people. Watch the video to find out more about how the pneumatic robot arm works and what its potential uses are.