Valais company Steiger invents 3D knitting

Since inventing the world's first fully electronic knitting machine in 1979, Steiger has been a pioneer in the design of industrial knitting machines. The company has recently developed a machine that knits products in three dimensions.

Knitting machine
Steiger's machines anticipate the future needs of the global fashion, medical and technical markets.

Steiger develops and manufactures flat knitting machines for the fashion, medical and industrial sectors. Founded in France in 1949, the company moved to Vionnaz in the canton of Valais in 1963. Today, it operates two sites, one in Switzerland and the other in China, with around 50 employees each. Thanks to continuous innovation, Steiger has been able to grow and position itself as a world leader in medical and orthopedic applications while in the early 2000s almost all textile production moved from Europe to Asia. In an interview with Swiss newspaper L'Agefi, its CEO Pierre-Yves Bonvin illustrates the importance of the Swiss site and presents the company’s latest innovation : a 3D knitting machine.

Competitive manufacturing costs

“Let's take a sweater for example”, he explains. “A traditional machine knits separate panels in two dimensions – the front of the sweater, the back, the sleeves. These pieces are then assembled manually in a twenty-five-minute operation called tailoring. Thanks to our innovation, for the same sweater, our machine knits three tubes of different diameters in parallel : the body in the middle and the two sleeves on each side. When the machine reaches the armpits, it joins the three tubes together and continues knitting the shoulders and collar. The sweater comes out of the machine almost finished. This process makes it possible to limit tailoring to less than five minutes, thus making the sweater competitive compared to Asian prices”.

World leader in medical applications

Steiger has adapted three-dimensional knitting to orthopedic and medical applications for the treatment of burn victims : “We have developed a digital solution that enables the installation of a dimensional scanner in a hospital. The area of the patient with third-degree burns is scanned. The dimensions are sent to our graphical programming software in the machine, through a web application developed by Steiger. In less than forty-eight hours, we can knit a custom-made dressing”, Pierre-Yves Bonvin adds.

Knitting airplanes

For the industrial sector, Steiger knits high-performance fibers such as fiberglass and carbon fiber. “Our machine knits a preform in three dimensions, which is then coated with resin and placed in a mould. We are able to offer an industrial solution to produce complex, ultra-light and ultra-resistant parts,” says Pierre-Yves Bonvin. The company has been selected to knit parts for the Solarstratos solar airplane, which will fly at an altitude of more than 25,000 meters.