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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.

Application of Technical Textiles

Textiles are everywhere in modern society; Worn as protection and self expression on the human body, used as decoration and comfort elements in homes, offices, hospitals, hotels or public buildings, as interior components in cars, buses, trains, ships and airplanes, or structural elements for tents, roofs, bridges, or as reinforcements for roads, and dikes but also as bags, nets or artificial turf in sports and outdoor activities. In spite of the fact that normally the textile industry is considered a traditional sector, today it has become one of the main test-beds regarding new business strategies.

The new market standards, achievable with process innovations, which on one hand reduce costs, whereas on the other hand allows to distinguish oneself from the other competitors, have become a very important competitive factor. Ever since the mid 80’s, the market of textile products started to change radically, and it was divided between: Standard productions, identified with a low innovation and technology level, medium to low quality, weak customer service – complex productions identified with a high product innovation level, with the use of state-of-the-art process technologies and product research, a strong aesthetic element, as well as certain and high quality levels, quick timing addressing requirements, production flexibility and customer service.

As well as the above, currently there is a new phase in the textile field in which new materials allow to make dynamic and interactive products, able to offer protection, comfort and performance. The textile materials are therefore becoming the basis for a completely new range of new applications.

Innovative and technical textiles: A sector of niches with high added value

Today it’s needed to adopt a different approach to textiles; Fabrics have to be regarded not only just as a surface, to be interpreted graphically, but as a material to all intents and purposes, with its own intrinsic structure and performance. In the sector of technical textiles there are a large number of niches and products, often highly technological and where the end user requires specific requirements, and for which the cost is no longer the only parameter taken into consideration.

Regarding innovative textiles the market is growing rapidly and many developments of new products and applications are underway. The technological evolution which transversally integrates human science, materials and information technology, does allow to foresee positive perspectives in the approach towards development of new products and applications. The general trend is therefore towards high tech, high performance fabrics designed not just to look attractive, but to offer a significant added value in terms of functionality.

Application field of technical textiles In the field of specialised applications, the technological assets are those that provide the highest performance and comfort standards, and ensure a better quality of life. Already there are fabrics capable of reducing risks (eg, antibacterial, mite-proof, insect proof, odourless, flame retardant, soil-resistant, anti-UV and anti-electromagnetic radiation, etc). Other fabrics function actively (eg, heat-regulating, with new visual features, or providing cosmetic-medical effects, and so forth).

Application Functions

  1. Mechanical functions
  2. Exchange functions
  3. Functionalities for living beings
  4. Protective functions

Mechanical functions

  1. Mechanical resistance
  2. Reinforcement of materials
  3. Elasticity
  4. Tenacity

Exchange functions

  1. Filtration
  2. Insulation and conductivity
  3. Drainage
  4. Impermeability

Functionalities for living beings

  1. Antibacteria
  2. Antidustmites
  3. Biocompatibility (hypoallergenic textiles)
  4. Biodegradability / bioresorption

Protective functions

  1. Thermal
  2. Fire
  3. Mechanical
  4. Chemicals
  5. Impermeable – Breathable
  6. Antistatic
  7. Particles antirelease
  8. Electrical insulation
  9. IR and UV rays
  10. NBC (Nuclear, biological and chemical)
  11. High visibility
  12. Electromagnetic fields

Sector-wise Application of Technical Textiles

Agrotech (Agro-textiles)

Agro-textiles, also known as Agrotex, that are used in agricultural applications related to growing and harvesting of crops and animals. Not only crop production, they are also used in forestry, horticulture, as well as animal and poultry rearing including animal clothing. Agro-textiles have to be strong, elongated, stiff, bio-degradable, resistant to sunlight and toxic environment. The essential properties required are strength, elongation, stiffness, and bio-degradation, resistance to sunlight and resistance to toxic environment. All these properties help with the growth and harvesting of crops and other foodstuffs. There is a growing interest in using materials which gradually degrade (biodegradables). Applications for technical textiles in agriculture include all activities concerned with the growing and harvesting of crops and animals.

The principal function of most agricultural textiles relates to the protection of either food produce, animals or land. Enduses range from crop production, through forestry and horticulture, to animal and poultry rearing and fishing. The fishing segment is a large consumer of textile materials Fishing methods are becoming more industrialised, replacing older small net and line fishing techniques.

Some of the examples of agro textiles are preventing erosion and paving way for afforestation in greenhouse cover and fishing nets. For Layer separation in fields, in Nets for plants, rootless plants & protecting grassy areas As sun screens (since they have adjustable screening)and wind shields As packing material and in bags for storing grass (that has been mowed) Controlling stretch in knitted nets Shade for basins Anti-birds nets Fabrics for sifting and separation, for the phases of enlargement of the larvae Materials for ground and plant water management at the time of scarcity and abundance of water.

Buildtech

These are the Construction Textiles, also known as Buildtex, used in construction and architectural applications, such as for concrete reinforcement, facade foundation, interior construction, insulation, air conditioning, noise prevention, visual protection, protection against sun light, building safety etc. The field of textile architecture is also expanding as textile membranes are increasingly being used for roof construction. Such fabrics as PVC coated high tenacity PES, teflon coated glass fiber fabrics or silicone coated PES are used extensively in football stadia, airports and hotels.

Clothtech

These are the Clothing Textiles, also known as Clothtex, including all those textile products that represent functional, most often hidden components, of clothing and footwear such as interlinings, sewing thread, insulating fibrefill and waddings. They are the ‘high performance’ garment fabrics whose demand is increasingly rising with the time.

The skin is the principal element that separates and protects the human body from the environment around it. It is also acts as a major exchange system of energy (eg, heat) and matter (fluids and gases such as water, oxygen etc) between body and environment. Clothing as an artificial second skin has always been used by humans to enhance the protective function of their own skin. However such additional protection often has a negative effect upon the exchange functionality of the human skin, in certain cases very severely like in the case of full body armour, fire-fighters, uniforms or diving suits. Functional and smart or intelligent clothing are the innovative response to such limitations. Functional clothing refers to products in which one or several specific functionalities are emphasised like strong insulation, water or fire resistance, breathability, wear resistance etc. Smart clothing takes (multi) functionality one step further as it refers to products that can offer their functions in a more adaptive way in response to stimuli from the environment or the wearer.

Smart garments can for instance:

  • Adapt their insulation function according to temperature
  • Detect vital signals of the wearer’s
  • Change colour or emit light upon defined
  • Generate or accumulate electric energy to power medical and other electronic

Geotech

These are the Geotextiles, also known as Geotex, which are woven, nonwoven and knit fabric used for many functions   such as support, drainage and separation at or below ground level. Their application areas include civil and coastal engineering, earth and road construction, dam engineering, soil sealing and in drainage systems. Geotech have good strength, durability, low moisture absorption and thickness. Synthetic fibers such as glass fiber, polypropylene and acrylic fibers are used to prevent cracking of the concrete, plastic and other building materials.

Hometech

These are the Domestic Textiles, also known as Hometex, used in making of many home furnishing fabrics including carpet backings, curtains, wall coverings, etc. They are mostly fire retardant fabrics whose properties are derived either by using fire retardant fibers such as modacrylic fiber or by coating the fabrics with fire retardant additives such as bromide of phosphorus compounds.

Traditionally textiles have been an important part of the interior of human habitations, as well as human transportation systems such as cars, buses, passenger trains, cruise ships or airplanes. In that respect textile served three basic purposes:

  1. Decoration (carpets, wall coverings, curtains & drapes, table cloths, etc).
  2. Comfort (upholstery, seat covers, mattresses, bed sheets, blankets, carpets etc).
  3. Safety (safety belts and nets, airbags).

Textile Structures for building Textiles have in the past been predominantly confined to the interior decoration; They are now increasingly becoming part of these constructions themselves. Thanks to better performance characteristics in terms of their strength-weight ratio, durability, flexibility, insulating and absorption properties, and fire and heat resistance, they are in a position to replace more traditional construction materials such as steel and other metals, wood and plastics. Examples of such innovative uses of textiles include

  • Lightweight textile
  • Textile-reinforced
  • Fibre and textile-based bridging cables and elements.
  • Erosion and landslide protection
  • Textile reinforcement of dykes and other water management
  • Fibre-based light, flexible and durable piping and canalisation

Indutech

These are the Industrial Textiles, also known as Indutex, used in different ways by many industries for activities such as separating and purifying industrial products, cleaning gases and effluents, transporting materials between processes and acting as substrates for abrasive sheets and other coated products. They range from lightweight nonwoven filters, knitted nets and brushes to heavyweight coated conveyor belts.

Medtech

These are the Medical Textiles, also known as Medtex. They include all the medical fabrics that are used in health and hygiene applications in both consumer and medical markets. They are generally used in bandages and sutures that are used for stitching the wounds. Sutures and wound dressing uses fibers like silk fibers and other synthetic fibers. Hollow synthetic fibers are used with nano particles (very small particles) for delivery of drugs to any specific part of the body. Cotton, silk, polyester, polyamide fabrics are also used in medical applications. Innovative textile products can both add significantly to effectiveness of medical treatments as well as patient comfort at the same time, new medical textiles, may contribute to cost containment. Such innovative products:

  • Provide new treatment options (textile based implants instead of scarce donor organs; artificial tissues, joints and ligaments).
  • Speed up recovery after medical treatment (innovative wound dressings; Light, breathable orthoses/protheses).
  • Enhance quality of life of chronically ill people (functional clothing).

Mobiltech

These textiles, also known as Mobiltex, are used in transport industry, such as in construction of automobiles, railways, ships etc. Truck covers and restraints are significant textile end-uses in the transportation sector. They can range from simple ropes and tarpaulins to highly engineered flexible curtain systems and webbing tie-downs. Other examples include seat covers, seat belts, non-wovens for cabin air filtration, airbags, parachutes, inflatable boats, air balloons etc.

Oekotech

These are the Eco-friendly Textiles, also known as Oekotex or Ecotex. They are mostly used in environmental protection applications – floor sealing, erosion protection, air cleaning, prevention of water pollution, water cleaning, waste treatment/recycling, depositing area construction, product extraction, domestic water sewerage plants. They are even gaining unimaginable popularity in other sectors of textile industry. Clothing, home furnishings, fashion accessories etc. all now come in eco-friendly versions made of oekotech.

Packtech

These are the Packaging Textiles, also known as Packtex. Textiles have been used for packaging since ages. It ranges from heavyweight woven fabrics used for bags, packaging sacks, Flexible Intermediate Bulk Carriers (FIBCs) and wrappings for textile bales and carpets to the lightweight nonwovens used as durable papers, tea bags and other food and industrial product wrappings.

Protech

These are the Protective Textiles, also known as Protex, that are used in the manufacturing of protective clothing of different types. Protection against heat and radiation for fire fighter clothing, against molten metals for welders, for bullet proof jackets or for chemical protective clothing- all depend on the use of protech.

The main target of the technical protective fabrics is to improve people safety in their workplaces. A technical protective fabric can save a worker’s life, that’s why, most of them are mainly used to manufacture PPE (personal protective equipment). The demand of these fabrics is growing around the world thanks to the sensibilitization of the society, requiring more safety at work.

The aim of a technical protective fabric isn’t fashion, they are designed to have extra values in protection, against some hazards. The protective textiles are made with the help of specialty fibers such as aramid fiber used in making of bullet proof jackets, glass fibers used in fire proof jackets etc. Sometimes the protective textile is also coated with special chemicals, for example, when used in manufacturing astronauts’ suits. The main end use segments include:

  • Chemical
  • Flame
  • Cut
  • Outdoor protection, hi-visibility.

Manufacturers of protective clothing are also realising the need to supply workers with comfortable garments. In fact although guaranteed high levels of performance will remain critical for protective garments, increased emphasis is being placed on wearer comfort, and design aesthetics.

Sporttech

These are the Sports Textiles, also known as Sporttex, used mainly for making sports wear including sports shoes and other sports accessories. Increasing interest in active sports and outdoor leisure activities such as flying and sailing sports, climbing, cycling, etc. has led to immense growth in the consumption of textile materials in manufacturing sporting and related goods and equipment. Synthetic fibers and coatings have largely replaced traditional cotton fabrics and other natural fibers in the making of sporttech.

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