Smarte Textile Illumination

The OSRAM Podcast: Episode #9 with Joachim Dilger


Hello and welcome to the Photonstudio, the OSRAM Podcast. My name is Dieter Schierer. I am an OSRAM employee in the field of digital communication and I am very much looking forward to a new episode about the fascination of light. Today we will talk about the Smart Textile Illumination division at OSRAM. In our high-tech world, pedestrians, cyclists, athletes or workers are still not sufficiently visible at dusk and in the dark. Great dangers lurk here.

Reflectors that react to external light sources can only partially banish them. It is therefore time to focus on the aspect of better visibility and safety. I have invited my OSRAM colleague Joachim Dilger to the Photonstudio for this purpose. He heads the Smart Textile Illumination division at OSRAM.

Dieter: Joachim, I am very pleased that you have taken the time today to join us in the Photonstudio.

Joachim: Hello Dieter! I am happy to be here today.

Dieter: Thanks for your time! You are head of the business unit STI (Smart Textile Illumination). What does this abbreviation actually stand for?

Joachim: Smart Textile Illumination focuses on active illumination of objects and clothing for everyday use. Be it in the workwear sector, in the leisure sector or in the sports sector. Here the visibility and therefore also the safety for the wearer should be increased in order to avoid accidents.

Dieter: Would you like to briefly explain how this innovative business came about?

Joachim: In the end, it was born from an innovation. From the innovation program, which my predecessor Stefan Hofmann developed. His thought was, why don't we illuminate ourselves to be seen better? It helps us in our daily work to be seen better and therefore helps to avoid accidents. That was his intention and then he started to work on ideas. In the end he came up with the topic UVEX and workwear.

Dieter: How did the journey continue then? OSRAM has a lot of expertise in the lighting sector, but has no expertise in textiles. How did you proceed here?

Joachim: In the beginning there was the idea and then it was about defining the product in such a way that it is easy for customers to learn and offers added value. On the other hand, we needed sales and market access. OSRAM had no access to the textile industry. That's why we had decided to enter into partnerships such as the one with COATS. COATS is one of the largest manufacturers of sewing yarn and was able to help us to scale this business globally and bring it to market globally. We bring the technology and the innovation and our partner brings the market access.

Dieter: Is Smart Textile Illumination only light in a textile or is it even more? You call yourself Smart Textile Illumination. What is smart about it?

Joachim: At the moment the topic of light is really a priority. When we talk about the different use cases, such as connectivity and digital networking, things are getting smarter. The more the evolution moves forward, the smarter the topic becomes. At the moment we are working hard to make it easy for the manufacturer to integrate it and make it easy for the user to wear. The second step is to expand the whole thing with features.

For example, that you connect it to a smartphone or a Smartwatch and then control the light. Or you can have additional features like a brake light for cyclists. That means you brake and a sensor detects this and your jacket or backpack lights up. Or in the work area we talk about the Connected Worker. This means that certain sensors pick up vital functions and can reproduce them in the light. Especially in the Lone Workers area, the light can indicate whether you are feeling well or not. The whole thing can be connected to a control center so that they can see where you are and what has happened, and then call for help. And then it becomes really smart!

Dieter: So the basics of Smart Textile Illumination are illuminated textile products, but how does it work? Are these special light modules?

Joachim: Light in textiles exists already for quite some time. We have set ourselves the task of making it more aesthetic and above all wearable. For this purpose, we use so-called optical fibers. There we couple in light via LED's, this light guide then scatters it outwards, so that it looks like a kind of homogeneity. All the electronics that we install and have developed are washable and therefore remain in the textile. That means you do not have to take it out. You can wash it at 60 degrees and dry it at up to 90 degrees. The whole thing is operated with a powerbank and with a control switch you can switch the light on and off, make it blink etc.

Dieter: Which products are already on the market?

Joachim: The applications are very diverse. We have many customers in different areas. For example, Backpack manufacturers or school bag manufacturers to protect the smallest of our society with light. A child is often smaller than a car and by actively illuminating the schoolbag the child is better seen. Besides schoolbags we have backpacks, bicycle bags and saddlebags. But we also have commuter jackets and normal transition jackets. Now for the winter season we will bring two more winter jackets on the market. So, there are a lot of applications to build in this topic.

Dieter: You have just mentioned an important point. In the past I had to wear reflective stripes to be seen in the dark. The advantage of Smart Textile Illumination is that it glows actively and you don't have to be illuminated separately. So, you increase the safety of the person wearing the product.

Joachim: Exactly! The retro-reflection had to be illuminated in order to reflect back. But often it is already too late by then. With active lighting, on the other hand, you are seen much earlier.

Dieter: If we now go one step further, we come to smartness in the products, i.e. connectivity. I know that in the meantime sensors can be built into products in the workwear sector. For example, if an employee enters a certain area in the factory that he or she is not allowed to enter, the jacket can send out acoustic signals and also light up. What is the current state of affairs there?

Joachim: There are various technical solutions to this issue. At the moment we have launched a product with two other companies, which contains the topic collision warning. The company Linde Material Handling has developed a system that protects people from machines. If a forklift truck gets close to an employee, it triggers an alarm in the vest. The vest then starts to glow and vibrate to prevent a collision. This is a subject based on Ultra-Wideband-Frequency. This is great for the interior, as it is much better and more stable than Bluetooth or Wifi. This is a project that we brought to the market together with Linde Material Handling and UVEX. And the same is also valid for man against man during the Corona time. This means that if the distance between two workers is less than 2 meters, both of them get an alarm.

Dieter: Do I understand correctly that other sensors than distance sensors can be built into the products? For example, sensors that detect when gas is released in a room or an accident occurs?

Joachim: That's right. We have already built several use cases in this area, which are fully connected to acceleration sensors. If the worker falls down, an emergency call is triggered, the control center can locate the worker and finally send help. There is also a preliminary stage where we make our light module ready for this. The light module can then be connected to other smart devices. In a second step, we would then integrate all this inside the jacket itself.

Dieter: Who are our target groups here? I can well imagine that active lighting could be of particular interest to employees at the airport or even the police. Is this the case?

Joachim: The target group for work safety is very broadly diversified. Mainly it is heavy industry and also transport logistics. Here you have very large areas and often you work alone. Working alone means that you have little protection because nobody can take care of you. It is even more important to be connected to the control center to make sure that nothing happens to you. It is also a good place to work for the fire department. In the event of an accident on the highway, vehicles drive at high speed alongside. Often workers or firefighters are badly seen here.

Dieter: Do we already have pilot projects with the fire department or the police?

Joachim: The police in Lower Saxony is now equipped with active illuminated protective clothing. And these are equipped with our LED modules. The feedback here is very positive, as it increases visibility and makes you feel more secure.

Dieter: I can well imagine that the stroboscope effect of the police can also be incorporated there, right?

Joachim: On the electronics side, we have various options for adapting the light to the customer's needs. No matter if you want a fast flashing light or no flashing at all, everything is possible.

Dieter: I know from Smartwatches that there is a function that makes a kind of emergency call if the person does not move for more than a certain time. Can you imagine to integrate that for motorcyclists in a jacket? So if an accident happens and the person can no longer stand up on his own, that the jacket then makes an emergency call?

Joachim: Absolutely! Last year we had a workshop together with some decision makers from the motorcycle industry, the road safety and the police. The topic of active lighting was very well received again. And the connectivity was about exactly what you described. So the motorcyclist falls, slides away from his machine and is no longer conscious. The gravitational sensors that we built into our prototype then automatically sent an emergency call to an emergency contact as soon as a certain amount of shock was detected. Then the coordinates are transmitted via GPS and the emergency contact can call for rescue. There is also the possibility to contact the European control center directly. This is all possible and has been very well received. The topic of light in combination with sensor technology has also been extremely well received by motorcyclists. This means that if you drive into a tunnel, the sensor recognizes that it is dark and switches the light on. This is already a prototype that we have built. With this day and night sensor technology, energy is only consumed by the light when it's dark or you drive in poor light conditions.

Dieter: What is the competitive situation here? Are we the only ones or are there several competitors?

Joachim: I mentioned at the beginning that the topic of light in textiles has been around for quite a while. This is mainly a topic from Asia, where many textile manufacturers try it out. Meanwhile there are some good competitors, which we also know in Europe. But all of them differ from each other in a certain way. We are washable, the other maybe not. Another one may have gone more digital, but didn't put as much emphasis on the hardware. The competition is there and that's a good thing, because it gets us to the point where the topic is accepted in the market. We always try to stand out from the competition with our features. But we are also very open with our competition. Of course, you meet each other at various trade fairs or exhibitions and know who is playing where.

Dieter: You and I were at ISPO at the beginning of the year. What highlights did you discover there? What are the findings? What trends did you see and where is Smart Textile Illumination heading?

Joachim: The ISPO in spring was the Winter ISPO. We saw a few light themes, but we also saw a lot about heating in jackets. This shows that many people are already thinking about what Smart Textile means. The trends are connectivity. Everything is connected and I also want to connect my clothes.

Dieter: But the weight of a jacket should remain the same...

Joachim: Right, that is always the big challenge. Great features without getting heavier. Of course this doesn't really work, but I think we have developed a very good system. We have learned a lot from our existing partners and customers how to industrialize and integrate the topic. The response from ISPO was very good! It was interesting that we were approached very often in the corridor. So we don't just go to the manufacturer and make a cold call, but move through the hall and attract attention with our shiny clothes and our shiny bags. Then it's like, "Wow, does OSRAM do that? That is cool! Can I use that too?". That's how many customer conversations and also contacts have been made. That was a crucial point why we wanted to have a small stand at the summer ISPO, but then the Corona pandemic came along...

Dieter: This is a good transition to the almost concluding question. We are now sitting at least 1.5 meters apart. It is a very challenging and difficult time for all of us. I think the textile industry has been hit even harder than other industries. Nevertheless, I wanted to ask if you can give an outlook on where the journey is heading here? Corona has also been an opportunity for some people, for example to introduce digitalization in schools. Did Corona also have an influence on Smart Textile, that people here are rethinking, as in the example with the 2 factory employees who are notified when they don't keep the distance?

Joachim: The Corona time was not easy for us, but we used it well. The customers were suddenly open to new topics. We had a lot of discussions and webinars with various customers to place the topic before the big shutdown comes. That helped us to gain momentum again, now that the factories are up and running and the industry is starting to move again. It helps us now that we have done some preliminary work. We can already see the first projects coming back in. We have also received a lot of inquiries about physical distancing. The word will also accompany us for a while. Therefore, we see various possibilities to position ourselves there.

Dieter: That's a perfect ending I would say. Joe, thank you for your time, you explained it perfectly. Thank you for being here with us in the Photonstudio.

Joachim: Thanks for letting me be there and introducing the topic!

In today's episode of the Photonstudio, Joachim clearly showed us how diverse the field of Smart Textile Illumination is and how numerous the possible areas of application are. As always, you can listen to this and all other episodes of our podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud and Google Podcast. If you want to learn more about our projects with active textile illumination, please visit our website www.osram.com/smarttextile. Have fun with it and until next time in the Photonstudio!

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