In times of digitalization trends such as Industry 4.0, Big Data and the Internet of Things, fiber-optic systems play a decisive role. In addition to data transmission, optical fibers can not only conduct light axially, but also radiate it radially for lighting applications. Polymer optical fibers (POFs) based on plastics are particularly suitable for this purpose. In today's world, lighting design plays a decisive role in design and construction in mass markets. Due to light-conducting fibers, textile technology plays a decisive role in this area. The advantages of optical polymer fibers compared to optical glass fibers speak for themselves: very low weight, cost efficient, very elastic.
These advantages simplify and favor light coupling systems as well as textile processability. This is also reflected by an annual growth rate of the POF market of 11% on average, as a study by igi Consult GmbH, Westheim/Germany, shows.
More than 250 textile machines and test benches are available at the Institut für Textiltechnik of RWTH Aachen University (ITA), Aachen/Germany. The process chain for POFs begins with material selection and ends with the demonstrator.
All relevant polymers can be processed on melt spinning machines in laboratory to industrial scale. Moreover, customized fibers can be produced here, that are tailored to the needs of a specific application. The wide range of textile manufacturing processes guarantees that research projects not only produce new types of fibers and fiber-based materials, but that these can also be further processed into semi-finished textile products and finished components.
The flexible and diverse uses of POFs offer a wide field of applications. In the automotive sector, various interior lighting concepts with polymer optical fibers are already being implemented. In the home & living sector, the possible applications range from illuminated office interiors and decorative elements to luminous curtains and skirting boards. POFs are also suitable for targeted light injection and data transmission in medical application areas. Extensive research is currently underway on the subject of killing bacteria and viruses.
In addition to lighting applications, fiber-optic systems can be used as sensors. Polymer optical fibers can be used, among other things, as distance, deformation, pressure, strain, vibration, level, (air) humidity, concentration sensors for acids, glucose, DNA, enzymes, proteins, viruses and bacteria, as well as pH value sensors.