Hospital infections are one of the world's leading causes of death. This was the point of departure for Israeli company Sonovia Textile, whem it began developing anti-bacterial fabrics for hospital beds. The company then discovered that its development was relevant to a wide range of areas in the textile sector, including contributing to more environmentally friendly fashion.
The technology was developed at Bar Ilan University by a team of researchers headed by Prof. Aharon Gedanken. They led a consortium of 16 European companies financed by a €12 million grant from the European Union (EU) for developing technology for hospital sheets.
"The currently prevalent method of making fabric anti-bacterial is finishing. They put the fabric in a material that contains silver or zinc, which have anti-bacterial qualities, and the material is absorbed in the fabric. After 15 washings, however, nothing remains of this material," says Sonovia VP business development Roy Hirsch.
An older and more resistant technology called extrusion, in which silver or copper threads are inserted into the fabric itself, is expensive, and suitable only for fabrics made out of polymer.
The method developed at Bar Ilan uses ultrasound to open small holes in the fabric, and puts the chemicals into the holes. The fabric is treated at the final stage of manufacture, which makes it inexpensive and appropriate to all types of fabric. The company's studies found that the material was resistant after 65 launderings.
Cooperation in designing a machine
In 2013, after the EU project was completed, Sonovia was founded as a company. Bar Ilan sold the commercial rights in the US to a local company that did not advance the product, while the Israeli company received the commercial rights everywhere outside of the US. The commercial rights in the US were returned to the university in 2017, when Sonovia began in its current format.
One of the first measures taken by Sonovia's management, headed by CEO Eli Assa, a senior lecturer at the Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art and former senior executive in textile companies, was cooperation with Bruckner Textile Machinery, a leading extrusion machinery manufacturer. The two companies jointly designed a machine based on Sonovia's technology. Bruckner will manufacture and market the machine, while Sonovia will sell the perishable chemicals. "We'll get a share of each sale of a machine and all of the revenue from the chemicals," Hirsch says. "The product will be in hospitals within 12 months, and we are also planning two clinical trials."
Sonovia plans to market the chemicals to laundries. "They dominate this market," Hirsch explains. "They sell both the fabric and the service."
Environmentally friendly fashion
Sonovia's technology also makes it possible to put other materials into fabrics, reduce chemical waste, and improve durability in laundering. The company therefore found a place in the Fashion for Good accelerator, founded in 2017 by the C&A group's impact fund in partnership with leading global fashion companies. The accelerator is designed for companies trying to make the fashion industry more environmentally friendly, more socially aware, and more cooperative, with fair employment terms. Sonovia was the first accelerator company to obtain a follow-on investment after graduating from it.
"In the accelerator, we're developing fire-resistant, water-resistant, and softer fabrics that are magnetically and electrically conductive, while also reducing costs. We can make a shirt that prevents body odor and last longer than similar shirts on the market," Hirsch explains. At a later stage, the company will sign cooperative agreements for pilots with companies partnering with the accelerator in order to develop capabilities for a series of products. The initial products not designed for healthcare will be for coloring and softening - processes that all fabric undergoes. "The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world, while Sonovia's method wastes less coloring material. The company's softening method is designed to produce fabric that will always feel as soft as when it left the store," Hirsch promises.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on July 16, 2019
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