Hard + Soft: Robotic Needle Felting for Nonwoven Textiles

  • Wes McGeeEmail author
  • Tsz Yan Ng
  • Asa Peller
Conference paper


This project explores the development of an additive manufacturing technique for nonwoven textiles. Nonwoven textiles, based on natural materials, synthetic polymers, or blends of the two, have numerous performative aspects, including excellent acoustic absorption, thermal insulation, and tactile characteristics. Felt is a typical example of a nonwoven material, and can be manufactured by both wet or dry processes. One example of a dry process involves needle felting, whereby fibers of the textile are meshed and entangled when punched together. This process binds the material together seamlessly without the addition of sewn thread or adhesives. Needle felting can range in scale from hand craft techniques with a single needle to large scale web processing. Integration into a robotic process not only enables precision and speed in manufacturing but also extends needle felting as a three-dimensional process, allowing for local differentiation of stiffness and other properties across a homogeneous solid. Through a customized digital workflow, formal and material properties can be varied at local level within a component. By developing a fully integrated design to production methodology for influencing these properties, this research opens a wide range of potentials for nonwoven textiles in architectural applications. The research involves three areas of development; the process tooling for robotic felting, the digital workflow that enables the formal and material properties to be specified computationally and embedded into the machine code, and prototypes of architectural elements such as acoustic panels and furniture demonstrating different techniques and processes.


Robotic needle felting Nonwoven textile Additive manufacturing CNC manufacturing 



This work was generously supported by the 2018 Taubman College Research Through Making Programme, as well as the University of Michigan Office of Research. Research Assistant Rachael Henry supported the work and Jared Monce, Drew Bradford, and Carlos Pompeo provided production assistance.


  1. Pietsch, K., Fuchs, H., Cherif, C.: Textile Materials for Lightweight Constructions: Technologies – Methods, Materials, Properties. Springer, Berlin (2016)Google Scholar
  2. Dent, A.: Felt Technology in Fashioning Felt, pp. 92–135. Smithsonian Institute, New York (2009)Google Scholar
  3. Ballagh, K.O.: Acoustical properties of wool. Appl. Acoust. 48(2), 101–120 (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berardi, U., Iannace, G., Di Gabriele, M.: Characterization of sheep wool panels for room acoustic applications. In: Proceedings of the 22nd International Congress on Acoustics: Acoustics for the 21st Century, Buenos Aires (2016) (2016)Google Scholar
  5. McKracken, J. Improved Process of Stiffening Hat Bodies. US Patent No. 15,664 (1856)Google Scholar
  6. Corscadden, K.W., Briggs, J.N., Stillesba, D.K.: Sheep’s wool insulation: a sustainable alternative use for a renewable resource? Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 86, 9–15 (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ahlquist, S.: Integrating differentiated knit logics and pre-stress in textile hybrid structures. In: Thomsen, M., Tamke, M., Gengnagel, C., Faircloth, B., Scheurer, F. (eds.) Modelling Behaviour, pp. 1–14. Springer, Cham (2015)Google Scholar
  8. Ammayapan, L., Moses, J., Shunmugam, V.: An Overview of the Production of Nonwoven Fabric from Woolen Materials. Accessed 05 Oct 2018
  9. Ghosh, S., Dever, M., Thomas, H., Tewksbury, C.: Effects of selected fiber properties and needle punch density on thermally-treated nonwoven fabrics. Indian J. Fibre Text. Res. 19 (1994)Google Scholar
  10. Bonwetsch, T., Kobel, D., Gramazio, F., Kohler, M.: The Informed Wall: applying additive digital fabrication techniques on architecture. In: Luhan, G.A., Anzalone, P., Cabrinha, M., Clarke, C. (eds.) Acadia 2006: Synthetic Landscapes, Proceedings of the 25th Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture, pp. 489–495. Louisville (2006)Google Scholar
  11. Vasey, L., Baharlou, E., Dörstelmann, M., Koslowski, V., Prado, M., Schieber, G., Menges, A., Knippers, J.: Behavioral design and adaptive fabrication of a fiber composite compression shell with pneumatic formwork: computational ecologies. In: Proceedings of the 2015 ACADIA Conference (2015)Google Scholar
  12. Taylor, P.: The development and use of a tape laying machine. In: Symposium on Fabrication Techniques for Advanced Reinforced Plastics. IPC Science and Technology Press, Salford (1980)Google Scholar
  13. Seyedahmadian, A., Torghabehi, O., McGee, W.: Developing a computational approach towards a performance-based design and robotic fabrication of fibrous skin structures. In: Proceedings of the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures Symposium (IASS): Future Visions, pp. 1–12. Amsterdam (2015)Google Scholar
  14. Hearle, J.W.S., Purdy, A.T.: The structure of needle punched fabric. Fibre Sci. Technol. 4, 81–100 (1971)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. McGee, W., Pigram, D.: Formation embedded design: a method for the integration of fabrication constraints into architectural design. In: Taron, J.M. (ed.): Acadia 2011: Integration through Computation, Proceedings of the 31st Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture, pp. 122–131. Calgary/Banff (2011)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations