Plasma treatment has an explosive increase in interest and use in industrial applications as for example in medical, biomedical, automobile, electronics, semiconductor and textile industry. A lot of intensive basic research has been performed in the last years, also in the field of textiles and technical textiles.

This has resulted in an increasing knowledge of the possibilities of this process regarding demands as wettability, shrinkage resistance of wool, dyeability, printability, coating and washability of conventional and technical textile. All day problems of wettability and adhesion, together with the environmental driven forces have increased the interest of industry today.

A fundamental problem at this moment for the implementation of this technique at a higher level is the lack of adapted machines. Continuous or semi-continuous treatment is one of the typical working methods in textile processing and thus the most important demand of this sector. In the US and Europe there was no standard manufacturing of these machines.

Europlasma, a Belgian manufacturer of plasma machines has built yet several tailored made batch machines for (semi-) continue treatment from roll to roll, which operate at this very moment especially in the field medical textiles. These industrial sized machines can already fill in the needs of various applications. The production of a full continuous machine for plasma treatment of yarns is planned for the near future. These special demands related to the different applications ask for a custom design approach. Chamber design, system selection and process optimization are part of the job.

In this presentation laboratory results obtained in close cooperation with Centexbel, the textile research institute in Belgium, regarding the treatment of wool, cotton, polypropylene and polyester will be presented. Results on a factorial design experimentation for the most important plasma parameters; treatment time, pressure, power will be discussed. Also comparative results for different plasma generators (KHz, MHz, GHz) and plasma gasses will be presented along.

Further the results of some industrial implementations will be discussed, together with the limits and strong elements of the available plasma equipment.

Market needs

Increasing interest from the textile industry and more specific the medical and technical textiles has made it necessary to produce continue and semi-continue plasma treatment machines.

Starting from the plastic and medical market where plasma is knowing a still growing market segment since more than ten years, now the textile market is starting to know plasma as an interesting, environmental and economic alternative or even unbearable tool for making a surface (textile) wettable or to prepare it for an optimal adhesion after colouring, laminating, bounding or whatever where adhesion is of importance.

A lot of basic research has been performed. Plasma treatment and its capabilities have been cleared out and so possibilities related to increasing wettability, dyeability, printability, coating and laminate adhesion or decreasing shrinking resistance of wool are well known now.

Economical problems in the textile industry stresses the sector to diversificate to for example technical textiles with a lot of new applications as result. The exchange of traditional materials by for example polyolefines as polypropylene because of recycling properties of the latter one has placed the textile industry in front of new problems and challenges. The typical low energy, thus low wettability of these materials include problems related to this wettability, but also to all adhesion based production processes. Plasma is known for years in the sector of plastics for its capability to solve this problem.

The discussed problems together with the environmental or technical driven forces has brought us to the interest of today. Taking not into account the Russian equipment and the very recently designed and manufactured laboratory machines, a lack of adapted industrial sized plasma treatment machines for the textile industry was reality in Europe. A clear demand of the sector is the need for semi- and full continue machines for treatment from roll to roll, in line or off line.

Because the technical textiles market will grow and create a lot of potential, the need to adapted plasma treatment machines is urgent. Especially in the market were products with a high technical specifications and added value are produced (medical, aerospace, automobile, ...) plasma will find its way.