PERRYSBURG, OH - It has gotten scant attention in the automotive industry, but a new wrinkle in laser technology developed by Technolines Inc., a fledgling company based here, may have significant potential for interior and other applications.
The technology, covered by some 10 patents - with several others pending - basically consists of proprietary software that converts digitized images into laser etchings on a variety of materials including leather, nylon, velour and denim.
Troy Moore, 38, a lawyer in nearby Toledo, is Technolines' president. Heath Colwell, 24, a computer science graduate of the University of Toledo, is director of technical development.
Mr. Moore won't say who specifically developed the new technology. "Someone brought us the idea three years ago, and we've taken it from there," he says.
Although Technolines has discussed its capabilities with the Big Three and transplant automakers as well as automotive suppliers, Mr. Moore says his initial thrust is aimed primarily at the textile and apparel industries. "Because we're small, we felt our best opportunities would be in textiles," he says.
In those applications it competes against some solidly entrenched technology, including embroidery, silk screen and embossing, Mr. Moore allows. But because designs are digitized in the Technolines process, changes in image size can be made "with a key punch" rather than creating new templates for each size as is necessary in the other processes.
Automakers have used lasers for years, of course, for tasks such as welding metal. "But until now no one could do that on soft goods because the material would burn or scorch," he maintains. Among its other boasts, Technolines says it has solved that problem.
During a demonstration for WAW, Mr. Colwell took previously digitized logos from several automakers and burned the images into different types of materials. The laser beam itself was enclosed in a device that sucks smoke and odor from the material through carbon filters.
Although Technolines visualizes no extraordinary problems from the intense heat generated by the laser as it literally "burns" the fabric, Mr. Colwell says the technology still faces safety, efficiency and manufacturing issues. He notes, however, that the software can change "the stiffness of the burn" depending upon the application.
Burning at the rate of 25 inches (64 cm) per second, the laser produced a Chevrolet Corvette logo on leather in 7.25 seconds, a"VW" on nylon fleece in 5 seconds, and a Dodge Ram logo on canvas in 9 seconds (see illustration). "Most logos take 5 to 12 seconds," says Mr. Colwell. The size, intricacy and type of material all are factors in the time equation, he adds.
One big potential advantage is the technology's ability to produce "an infinite number of patterns" once they've been scanned, digitized and entered into an electronic file, says Mr. Moore.
"The program does the math for the specific material, say denim, and the design," he points out. Consider designs on jeans, for example. To achieve a specific design, apparel manufacturers today typically "hang the jeans on the wall and blast them with metal shavings," says Mr. Moore. That's not only a dirty job, he maintains, it also can badly degrade the material.
With Technoline's process, designs can be burned into the material at the fabric mill when the bolts are produced. What's good for blue jeans, naturally, also could have automotive applications such as seating materials, headliners or door panels. Mr. Moore says the technology also can be used on nonwoven fabrics.
Although Technolines is focusing its marketing effort in the early going on textiles, it also is developing "Technocode," which also utilizes proprietary laser software to compete with standard bar-coding systems.
"Bar coding won't work on soft goods because you need a black and white contrast," Mr. Moore explains. Technocode, he adds, can capture four pages of information in the same space it takes for only 17 or 18 lines of bar code. He sees this technology as having applications in automotive theft-control and inventory control.
Still another spinoff: "Technoblast," which Mr. Moore says can protect soft goods manufacturers "against ripoffs" by verifying what's authentic and what's phony. The same system also can monitor quality control and log in where the material was manufactured, suppliers involved and other information, he says.
"We take a rifle shot vs. a shotgun approach," he boasts.
Technolines is represented by CK International of Farmington Hills, MI.