Weaving a bright future for the linen industry
One Belfast start-up is hoping its pioneering research could help build foundations of a newtextile industry in the city
Steven Kirby (left), MD of Axis Composites, with Edward Archer (centre), tech director, and Peter Edgar, Northern Ireland Science Park Connect Programme manager
A century ago more than 75,000 people in Northern Ireland were employed in an industry that revolved around weaving. At the turn of the 1900s Northern Ireland was a global leader in the production of linen.
Factories employing thousands of people, often in the harshest of conditions, dominated the Belfast skyline and the city prided itself as being a pioneer when it came to advancements in the linen industry.
Today more than a century later the legacy of Belfast’s once dominant textile sector is clear to see - evident in street names such as Linen Hall street or even if you pop in to Belfast City Hall and visit its Bobbin Coffee Shop.
There may still be a tangible link between the city’s textile heritages but their contribution to the local economy, somewhat like a well loved piece of family linen, has faded over time.
Now one ambitious Belfast start up is hoping that its pioneering research could help build the foundations of a new textile industry in the city that embraces Northern Ireland’s weaving heritage and marries it with 21st century technology.
Its work is focused on the development of unique 3 dimensional yarns and it recently commissioned a 3D weaving loom to manufacturer prototype 3D fabrics which can demonstrate the special properties of these particular hi-tech textiles.
Steven Kirby, managing director of Axis Composites, said these prototype textiles could be used in a wide variety of applications including components for aeroplanes, buses, boats, cars and even wind turbines.
“What we are doing is taking traditional skills developed over hundreds of years from Northern Ireland’s industrial weaving industries and using 21st century technology to modify and specially adapt equipment that can produce hi-tech textiles.
“Our research shows us that the use of textiles in composites produces 3D fabrics that are highly resistant to delamination - ie failure - they can be woven into endless different widths, thicknesses, patterns, shapes and strengths,” Mr Kirby said.
He said this is what makes 3D fabrics so appealing particularly to any manufacturing company with strength and weight challenges.
“The possibilities are endless - not only are 3D composite fabrics lighter and stronger and much more impact resistant they also give manufacturers the opportunity in the future to also reduce costs with cleverer design,” Mr Kirby added.