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The Modern Era of Technical Textiles

Classification, application, methods of processing, and finishing of technical textiles

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The technical textiles supply chain is a long and complex one, stretching from the manufacturers of polymers for technical fibers, coating, and specialty membranes through to the converters and fabricators who incorporate technical textiles into finished products or use them as an essential part of their industrial operations.

Definition and Scope of Technical Textiles

Technical Textiles are defined as Textile material and products manufactured primarily for their Technical performance and functional properties rather than aesthetic and decorative characteristics.

The Definition of Technical Textiles adopted by the authoritative Textile Terms and Definitions, published by the Textile Institute. “Materials and products intended for end-uses other than non-protective clothing, household furnishing, and floor covering, where the fabric or fibrous component is selected principally but not exclusively for its performance and properties as opposed to its aesthetic or decorative characteristics” (Textile Terms and Definitions, TI, Manchester, 10theEd.)

Such a brief description clearly leaves considerable scope for interpretation, especially when an increasing number of textile products are combining both

performance and decorative properties and functions in equal measure. Examples are flame retardant furnishings and ‘breathable’ leisurewear. Indeed, no two published sources, industry bodies or statistical organisations ever seem to adopt precisely the same approach when it comes to describing and categorising specific products and applications as technical textiles.

It is perhaps not surprising that any attempt to define too closely and too rigidly the scope and content of technical textiles and their markets is doomed to failure. In what is one of the most dynamic and broad ranging areas of modern textiles, materials, processes, products and applications are all changing too rapidly to define and document. There are even important linguistic and cultural perceptions of what constitutes a technical textile from geographical region to region in what is now a global industry and marketplace.

Scope of Technical Textiles

According to the recent reports, there has been a sharp Increase in the global demand for Technical Textiles in various application areas namely Meditech, Buildtech, Mobiletech, Protech, Indutech, Hometech, Clothtech, Sporttech, Packtech, Oekotech, Defence, Geotech. These applications have provided scope for making various products – from Car Upholstrey to Parachutes,Shelter Fabric to Home furnishing, Infrastructure to Environmental and even to Hospitals.The WORLD TRADE in technical textiles is believed to be over USD 50 Billion per annum and it isgrowing at an accelerated pace. It is expected to increase to USD 127 Billion by 2010 and drivers of future growth of this industry is expected to be Asian countries like India and China.

The new promise of technical and performance textiles is an emerging generation of products combining the latest developments in advanced flexible materials with advances in computing and communications technology, biomaterials, nanotechnology and novel process technologies such as plasma treatment. These will eventually have a direct impact upon all sorts of consumer textile markets, including both clothing and furnishings. The field of ‘wearable electronics’ has already captured the imagination of many researchers and large corporations and, although most products on the market today are relatively unsophisticated ‘implants’ of conventional electronics and wiring, the prospect of truly ‘interactive textiles embodying sensors, actuators and logic circuits built into the structure of the fibres, yarns and fabrics themselves is not impossibly far- fetched.

The term “technical textiles” was coined in the 1980s to describe the growing variety of products and manufacturing techniques being developed primarily for their technical properties and performance rather than their appearance or other aesthetic characteristics. It largely superseded an earlier term “industrial textiles” (still widely used in the USA) which had become too restrictive in its meaning to describe the full complexity and richness of this fast growing area. A major international exhibition, Techtextil, was launched in 1985 to reflect the growth of technical textiles and soon developed a simple taxonomy that has been used ever since to describe the scope of this new industry and market sector.

  • Agrotech – agriculture, horticulture, forestry and aquaculture textiles Buildtech – building and construction textiles
  • Clothtech – technical components of shoes and clothing e.g. linings Geotech – geotexiles and civil engineering materials
  • Hometech – components of furniture, household textiles & floorcoverings Indutech – textiles for industrial applications filtration, conveying, cleaning etc Medtech – hygiene and medical products
  • Mobiltech – automobiles, shipping, railways and aerospace Oekotech – environmental protection
  • Packtech – packaging materials
  • Protech – personal and property protection Sporttech- sport and leisure

Within each of these headings are literally hundreds of products and applications for textiles, some traditional, some replacing other well-established materials and techniques, and some that have been newly created by the unique properties and capabilities of textile materials and structures. The automotive industry is not only one of the largest single markets for technical textiles but also one of the most diverse.

Applications range from tyre cord, hose and drive belt reinforcements to thermal and sound insulation, safety belts and airbags, filters, cable harnesses and textile reinforced composites for body and suspension parts. Even the internal furnishings of a car headliners, seating, carpets, parcel shelf and trunk liners are all regarded as technical textiles because of the extremely demanding specifications to which they are made and tested. As just one other example, the medical and hygiene textiles market ranges from high volume disposable products for babies’ nappies, feminine hygiene and adult incontinence through to extremely specialised and high value textile products for use in blood filtration, surgical sutures, prostheses and, most recently, scaffolds for new tissue growth.

Technical Textiles has tremendous growth scope in India

As the importance of Technical Textile is rising day by day, market opportunities are increasing and thus the usage of the same is growing rapidly. Currently, approximately US $120 billion worth of Technical Textiles is consumed world over and in India it is just $6 billion. Though India has a significant presence in some segments of Technical Textiles such as Automotive and Industrial textiles, it is yet to make a presence in other segments of Technical Textiles.

Government has taken initiatives to promote Technical Textiles through fiscal support, research spending and inter-departmental co-ordination. This is expected to stimulate domestic consumption in the coming years

Besides, going by the past trends as shown in the developed countries, one can anticipate higher per capita consumption of Technical Textiles as the Indian economy continues to grow despite current slowdown.

The other major segment that is expected to stimulate the demand will be medical textiles, as India is fast emerging as a centre for medical tourism.

Indian Government is rightly increasing the spending on infrastructure significantly and this is expected to result in the growth of geo-textiles applications in roads, airports, dams, sea erosion control and solid waste management systems.

Agrotech is another area which promises a huge growth for Technical Textiles. Indian agriculture practices are presently not sufficiently modern. But with increasing awareness of advantages such as productivity and quality improvement due of use of woven, coated and non-woven textiles in agriculture, high growth is anticipated in this segment.

Present Scenario of Technical Textiles

Global Scenario

India is the world second largest producer of textile and garments. The textile industry in India contributes 14 % towards the GDP of USD 1.18 billion. This market itself being so big, there is tremendous potential for technical textiles as well. Currently the consumption of technical textiles in India forms only 3 % of the total world consumption; however, it is growing at a rate higher than most developed countries. The reasons for low penetration in this market are several, such as scattered production structure, inadequate research and development (R&D), lack of skilled   personnel. Another major contributing factor is that there is lack of awareness about the benefits of using technical textile and therefore leading to low consumption. So, India still has to make its presence felt in the world technical textiles market, which earns that a highly unexploited market is waiting to be explored.

The economic importance of technical textiles

The new promise of technical and performance textiles is an emerging generation of products combining the latest developments in advanced flexible materials with advances in computing and communications technology, biomaterials, nanotechnology and novel process technologies such as plasma treatment. These will eventually have a direct impact upon all sorts of consumer textile markets, including both clothing and furnishings. The field of ‘wearable electronics’ has already captured the imagination of many researchers and large corporations and, although most products on the market today are relatively unsophisticated ‘implants’ of conventional electronics and wiring, the prospect of truly ‘interactive textiles embodying sensors, actuators and logic circuits built into the structure of the fibres, yarns and fabrics themselves is not impossibly far- fetched.

Market Size Of Indian Technical Textile Industry

India is emerging as a significant player in technical textiles. The fast-paced economic growth leading to infrastructure creation as well as higher disposable income has made India a key market for the technical textile products. Moreover, the country has developed a foothold in the production of   technical textiles owing to its skilled and technical manpower as well as abundant availability of raw- material. More investments are underway in this sector; as per the Ministry of Textiles, as on September 2010, 26,163 applications for technical textile projects with a project cost of US$ 14.5 billion were disbursed under Technology Upgradation Fund Scheme (TUFS).

Indian Technical Textile industry is estimated at Rs 41,756 Crore (2007-08), with domestic consumption of Rs. 38,835 Crore. The Industry has witnessed a significant growth of 16% from 2001-02 to 2009-10 and, is expected to grow at a rate of 11% year-on-year and reach a market size of Rs. 70,151Crore by the year (2012-13), with domestic consumption of Rs. 65,722 by the year 2012-13

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