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Textile News

International Report: Spotlight On Technical Textiles And Nonwovens

John T. Millington, International News Editor

C oncurrent with ITMA, concerned primarily with preparatory and fabric/garment formulation processes with the dominant emphasis on apparel, the world spotlight has swung strongly in the direction of technical textiles and nonwovens. A single statistic can be quoted to emphasize the growth of this segment, which is probably set increasingly to dominate clothing in materials volume if not in monetary terms.

According to 1996 figures prepared by Chemical Fibre Industry (INC), 274,000 tons of fibers in Germany — 33 percent of all those processed in the country — went into technical applications compared with 228,000 into garments. Later figures are expected to confirm an ongoing trend.

A flood of statistical information was made available simultaneously with April’s Techtextil show in Frankfurt, Germany. The combination of this exhibition with the Interstoff exhibition attracted a total of over 1,000 exhibitors.

Messe Frankfurt has also organized the first Techtextil North America in Atlanta in March 2000 and will further expand with Techtextil South America in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in November 2000.

Statistical Information

A study by David Rigby Associates, United Kingdom, has listed the current worldwide market for woven and nonwoven technical textiles to be over $60 billion. The annual growth rate for Europe is estimated to be 2.6 percent between 1995 and 2005 and 3.8 percent worldwide.

The biggest customer for technical textiles is still thought to be the automotive market at $13 billion followed by industrial volume at $9 billion, sports, active and workwear at $8.8 billion, $7 billion into medical outlets and $3.4 billion into building and construction.

While there are definite prospects for growth in each of the 12 areas listed in the survey — Agrotech, Buildtech, Clothtech, Geotech, Hometech, Indutech, Medtech, Mobiltech, Oekotech, Packteck, Protech and Sporttech. Not unexpectedly they favor those sectors where expansion started from a low base in 1995.

Geotextiles are a case in point. Starting from a modest base of $1.18 billion in 1995, this should rise to $2.66 billion in 2005, an 8.5-percent increase. Protective textiles are expected to grow 6.4 percent from $2.1 billion by 2005. Packing, sporting and environmental applications are all seen as touching a 5-percent average growth. Specialist clothing and automotive will go up by 2.3 percent.

Similar statistics abounded at the parallel Interstoff exhibition. In accordance with developments in the European textile market, this has become Interstoff Sport. Performance parameters such as durability and protection are key aspects of technical fibers and fabrics.

Sportswear Growth

However there are also indications that performance is a growing factor in sportswear and that function as well as ubiquitous fashion content is again pushing to the fore. This stems from the fact that all casual wear tends to go through the activewear route, where moisture management is currently the most important factor but with UV resistance and abrasion resistance looming large on the horizon.

The worldwide growth in sports related clothing has been widely recognized but more specific figures have only recently been applied to its dramatic expansion. According to Pierre Duffar; DuPont’s European active sportswear manager, worldwide growth in this clothing area was 75 percent between 1987 and 1998, with an anticipated further growth of 23 percent from 1997 to 2001.

Sportswear in Europe is worth an estimated DM30 billion, with an average growth rate of 30 percent. Jogging suits, tops, track suits and socks account for 70 percent of sales, although in actual wear-application terms 85 percent of items are used for casual clothing and 15 percent for activewear. Cotton dominates, with a 50-percent market share.

Styles On Parade

The recent Index nonwovens show in Geneva was a forum for introducing and discussing new fibers and fabric developments, often using the most unlikely substances. For example, a naturally occurring lactic acid formed from polymers called PLAs (polylactic acids) can be used for nonwoven, biodegradable diapers to replace the waterproof covers over the absorbent pads. (See “Quality Fabric of the Month,” ATI June 1999).

A new type of acrylic fiber incorporates antibacterial and anti-fungal substances, avoiding the need for an extra protective layer, according to Roland Cox of Acordis Ltd., United Kingdom.

Manufacturers of nonwovens are currently looking at the development of new fire-resistant fibers and treatments. Nonwovens capable of resisting temperatures of 1,200°C for approximately 10 minutes have been developed in a British laboratory.

California-based Consolidated Growers and Processors (CGP) is targeting Germany in a bid to become the world’s first multinational hemp company. With a plan to have three facilities in Europe by 2003, CGP anticipates being the leading supplier of hemp materials to Europe.

Another natural fiber emerging from Europe is Eriotex. Kultaturve, Finland, is the only producer of materials and garments made from these organic fibers.

Eriotex comes from the Scandinavian plant eriphorum vaginatum and is said to have exceptional properties for textiles and clothing — warmer than wool, light, breathable and anti-static. It can be spun in blends with cotton and wool.

August 1999