Technical Textiles Are Driving Industry Growth

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Technical Textiles Are Driving Industry Growth

By Manik Mehta, Apparel Contributing Writer - 08/16/2017

All the pundits at major shows around the world share a common perception about the global textile industry: that its future growth will be driven by technical textiles.  Indeed, as Olaf Schmidt, the vice president of textiles and textile technologies for Messe Frankfurt, the organizer of the twin Techtextil/Texprocess 2017 fairs in Frankfurt, told Apparel magazine, technical textiles have become the most important driver of growth in the textile industry. This perception was shared by many experts at the shows.

Technology is the underlying force that is transforming the industry from its conventional to an increasingly digital character.  New software solutions, processes and technologies used in garment and leather manufacturing are top of mind at textile trade shows worldwide.

But it is not just the conventional applications of textiles and apparel that are of interest to both the industry and the consumers.  The applications are today proliferating, limited only by designers' imaginations. For example, technical textiles used in the highly-specialized aerospace industry are now being contemplated for consumer applications; they were already front and center at the Frankfurt twin shows, with the Messe Frankfurt even partnering with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the German Aerospace Center (GAC) to showcase the highly-specialized textiles under its “Living in Space” theme.

Indeed, Schmidt was euphoric about getting partners such as the ESA and the GAC to support the versatility of technical textiles and the entire textile spectrum.  A special hall was dedicated to the theme under the title “Living in Space” at the twin shows, highlighting the wide range of technical textiles and functional apparel products used in the aerospace sector manufactured by both the Techtextil and Texprocess exhibitors.  The “cherry on top” served to the hordes of journalists came in the form of a virtual reality journey through space to Mars to learn how technical textiles will aid in the future development of space travel and human habitation of nearby planets.

Michael Jaenecke, Messe Frankfurt’s director of brand management technical textiles and textile processing, wearing a heavy space suit, maintained that the technical textile sector offered the fabric solutions needed to move around and survive in space.

Digitalization will be a key factor in apparel and textile sector

A significant aspect of the textile industry is digitalization, which has the potential to provide quick support for existing products and reduce time to market new ones. This is the time for textile and apparel manufacturers to start planning to make digital part of their strategy.

“Digitalization has become a buzzword in the apparel industry, with new tools allowing data to flow seamlessly from digital design and development all the way through the supply chain to help garment manufacturers cut costs, improve quality, increase productivity, speed time to market, reduce waste and stay competitive,” said Jaenecke.

A digitalized sewing machine, operated through a touchscreen or app, was one of the products that attracted attention at the Texprocess show.

The future of production, as several experts mentioned, would be characterized by concepts such as the Digital Textile Micro Factory – a completely networked, integrated production chain from design through to finishing. The crowds drawn to the Digital Textile Micro Factory, admittedly, came out of sheer curiosity but then discovered that this model of a micro-factory could possibly define the future for the small companies.  The micro factory includes CAD/design, printing, cutting, assembling, labelling and finishing.

Christian Kaiser, a researcher/scientist at the Denkendorf-based German Institute of Textile and Fibre Research, the largest research institute in Europe, said that the digital small factory is the emerging model concept for SMEs.

Kaiser explained that micro factories typically are about 300 square meters to 400 square meters in size. “The micro factory deploys ‘smart machines,’ which perform cutting, sewing, welding, etc.,” he noted.  Adidas, for example, used these machines for sports shirts.  

“We are doing ‘smart designing’,” he said. “The machines designed as per our R&D enable savings … such a machine can cost from €300,000 to €400,000, this being the smallest version of the micro factory.  These machines are already available in North America.  The Chinese, Swiss, Japanese and Germans are making such machines.  We received many visitors from the textile industry inquiring about the micro factory,” said Kaiser.

Organic-based raw materials march ahead in textile manufacturing?

One growing trend, according to many European textile companies and experts, is the march of organic-based raw materials as an alternative to the petroleum-based raw materials.  Big companies such as Trevira, Perlon, Polisiik, PHP Fibers, China’s Glory Tang Group, etc., have been producing improved versions of thermoplastic polymers derived  from lactic acid.  Germany's Institute of Textile Technology at RWTH Aachen University has developed bio-based PLA-fiber blends whose mechanical properties result in lower shrinkage and greater tensile strength compared to the regular PLA.

Companies such as MA.RE and Polysilk are already producing PVDF filaments (polyvinylidene fluoride), though so far only Monosuisse and Perlon appear to be visible players in the market.

Flame and heat-resistant fibers are also increasingly in vogue with small companies trying to foray in this market segment.  Pyrotex Fibers, a small German company, has a patented Pyrotex-engineered acrylic-fiber.  Other companies that are engaged in the field include Evonik, Kurarary, Toyobo, Kynal, Kermel, DuraFiber Technologies and others.  

Textile composites are becoming increasingly versatile with growing number of applications

Synergies stemming from the combination of different composite materials with strikingly dissimilar physical or chemical properties yield a material with properties wholly disparate from the individual components. The applications of textile composites have grown significantly, including in reinforced concrete, protection products, self-reinforced polypropylene, and materials for racing bikes and aerospace

The bullish mood in the industry, propelled by the technical textile sector’s innovation prowess, is also reflected in the “customer industries” that depend on technical textiles for a variety of products, including cars, aircraft, fashion apparel, medical-related products, and more.

“You notice that there is a good climate of investment in Europe. People want to get things done.  We had lots of visitors to our stand, mainly Europeans and Americans. There were also more Russian visitors than anticipated,” said Jutta Stehr, senior marketing manager of German company Trützschler Nonwovens & Man-Made Fibers.

The bullish mood was also visible at the huge pavilion of Gerber Technology, the Tolland, Conn.-based company, which is in global expansion mode as a key player in the field of integrated technology solutions for the apparel and industrial markets. Gerber has been making a strong pitch for its cutting machines, focusing on the digitized machines as well as YuniquePLM.

“As a result of the possibility of transferring the data through our YuniquePLM Design Suite Plugin, the clothing designers can concentrate now on the designing part of the world,” explained Peter Morrissey, the senior vice president (global sales and services) at Gerber Technology.

According to Morrissey, the YuniquePLM System enables the customers to easily install and automatically update features through the Adobe Add-Ons Marketplace.  As a result, the designers can devote their time to designing new garment pieces.

“We are switching now from the 3-Dimension to 2-Dimension … one can eliminate procedures and create the image faster,” said Morressey who attributed Gerber’s success in the global markets to the company’s “follow-the-needle” strategy.

Morrisey pointed out that Gerber offered special machines for specific tasks.  For example, the Gerber precision machine is meant for clothing and the Gerber-Taurus is meant for leather.  

Gerber, with subsidiaries in Portugal and China, and offices in Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Hong Kong, commands a share of 30 percent to 40 percent of the global market in sectors such as clothing, transportation (aviation and automobile), lifestyle and leisure, graphics (tools, machines, software in advertising, etc.) and packaging.  The clothing sector, as the largest market segment in Asia, accounts for a 50 percent share of the company’s business. “Asia is our fastest growth market in the world. Gerber’s first major market in Asia was China,” Morrissey said.

He noted that the “re-shoring” phenomenon was spreading in the apparel sector, with production being established as close as possible to the customers.  The Chinese are, meanwhile, investing in Africa because they can access the U.S. market through the AGOA-Agreement signed between the U.S. and African nations, enabling duty-free exports to the U.S.  Indian and Turkish manufacturers were also, increasingly, relocating to Africa.

Gerber has also developed the latest Design Suite Plugin which enhances the efficiency of the operations. Gerber’s Innovative Apparel Show at the Texprocess fair showcased designs created by fashion and design school students of design and fashion schools.

The fashion industry, which had been overtaken by other industries in the area of digitalization, is on the verge of a digital technology revolution.  Indeed, experts predict that digital transformation will embrace all stages of apparel production, from design to the end consumer's purchase.

Stäubli takes high-speed textile machinery to next level of development

The Swiss company Stäubli, which has specialized in high-speed textile machinery, providing shedding solutions for weaving machines, weaving preparation systems, and carpet weaving systems in the traditional textile industry, is placing considerable emphasis on research and development to extend its product range.

The company offers machinery dedicated to the production of technical textiles. “Weavers who count on Stäubli’s high-performance machinery benefit from features like high reliability and flexibility will be able to take the lead on the market of technical textiles with innovative and creative products for countless applications,” said Fritz Legler, a senior executive with the company.

Stäubli made a strong pitch for two of its machines used in the production of technical textiles.  Furthermore, it also displayed technical fabrics including spacers and multilayers with variable thickness that have been produced in conjunction with Stäubli products, such as TF weaving systems, dobbies, Jacquard machines, warp drawing-in, or tying equipment.

Stäubli’s Magma T12 warp tying machine has been developed for technical yarn ties monofilaments, coarse multi-filaments, PP ribbons, bast fibers, coarse staple fibers, and many other fiber types. It has been developed for universal application ranging from coarse technical yarns to medium yarn-count range. Its rigid design includes an optical double-end detection system.    

The UNIVAL 100 single-end control Jacquard machine offers more benefits for sophisticated technical textiles, such as automotive and aeronautic textiles, technical textiles in the sports, industrial, medical sectors and new fabric constructions, even with glass fiber, carbon and Kevlar.

Its new TF weaving system is designed to offer virtually unlimited weaving possibilities, whether for flat, spacer or complex multi-layer fabrics and 3D fabrics, according to the company.