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Nonwovens / Technical Textiles

Focus: Specialty Fabrics

IFAI Expo 2005 is attracting participants from around the world to San Antonio for the annual specialty fabrics showcase.

Janet Bealer Rodie, Assistant Editor

T he Roseville, Minn.-based Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) will head to San Antonio next month to put on its annual conference, trade show and related events. IFAI Expo 2005 will be held Thursday through Saturday, October 27-29, at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, just a stone's throw from the historic Alamo and the scenic River Walk area along the banks of the San Antonio River that passes through the city.

Each year, IFAI Expo presents the latest specialty fabrics developments from manufacturers, suppliers, research and educational institutions, service providers and other providers within that sector. Applications include: architectural structures such as awnings, canopies, tents, and air and tension structures; banners and flags; marine products; medical, safety and protective textiles; geotextiles; and nonarchitectural inflatable structures; among others.

IFAI expects 8,000 visitors and 450 exhibitors at this year's event, which also will offer more than 90 educational opportunities within two pre-conference symposia and 12 educational tracks scheduled during the expo.

A special event this year is the Advanced Fabrics Exhibition, directed by Marie O'Mahony, a London-based consultant and author of several books on textiles and technology including "Sportstech: Revolutionary Fabrics, Fashion, and Design." On view will be a collection of objects and prototypes and the fabrics that inspired them. Artists and designers from a number of countries have contributed a range of articles including furniture, clothing, architectural systems and smaller objects, among others.

Tensile structures at the Premium Outlet Las Vegas Food Court serve as a 15,000 square-foot shading device and cover between buildings.

Symposia And Expo Educational Tracks

This year's pre-conference symposia - Fabric Structures 2005 and Textiles & Graphics 2005 - are scheduled to take place Wednesday and Thursday, October 26 and 27, at the convention center.

Fabric Structures will look at fabric as a building material, and will include sessions covering the design of fabric structures as well as environmental, durability, aesthetic, energy efficiency and high-performance considerations. The symposium, cosponsored by Fabric Architecture magazine in cooperation with IFAI's Lightweight Structures Association and Professional Awning Manufacturers Association, will open with a keynote address by fabric structure engineer and designer Horst Berger, PE, principal consultant, De Nardis Engineering LLC, White Plains, N.Y., and Distinguished Professor, Community College of New York School of Architecture.

Textiles & Graphics - organized by IFAI and its Banner, Flag & Graphics Association - will explore the use of textiles as digital print substrates, highlighting both indoor and outdoor applications, and recent advancements in these applications as well as in the equipment, ink and textiles used for them. Keynote speaker Patti Williams, consulting partner, IT Strategies, Hanover, Mass., will discuss opportunities and markets in this area.

A joint session on Thursday morning will bring participants in both symposia together to consider areas where structural and graphics applications coincide.

During IFAI Expo itself, additional educational opportunities are scheduled under 12 tracks including: Automotive; Filtration; Geosynthetics for Landscape Architecture; Medical Textiles; Safety & Protective; Sports & Recreation; Awning & Canopy; Banner & Flag; Inflatable & Tent; Marine; Upholstery; and Business & Leadership. Each track will offer several programs covering various aspects of the particular topic.
The River Walk in San Antonio offers a shady respite from the comings and goings in the city streets one level above it.

Other Expo Events
The 2005 International Achievement Awards will be presented and winning entries showcased during IFAI's Annual Meeting/International Achievement Awards Breakfast Thursday morning. The 27 competition categories include two that are new this year - Air Structures and Free-standing Canopies.

On Friday morning, expo keynote speaker Doug Lipp, Fair Oaks, Calif., former head trainer at Walt Disney University, will talk about "The Changing Face of Today's Customer." Lipp will discuss globally expanding businesses that serve culturally diverse local markets and the problems they encounter in such an environment.

On Saturday morning, IFAI's Professional Certification Programs will offer an orientation session to potential candidates to outline testing phases and eligibility requirements for professional certification. Also, candidates who have previously completed Phase One of the certification process will be tested during the expo for final certification in several specialty areas including industrial fabric manager - marketing, production, personnel or finance; awning and canopy; banner and flag; marine exterior; marine interior; and truck cover and tarpaulin.

That evening, expo participants will have a chance to unwind and celebrate during the Chairman's Gala reception and banquet at the Marriott Rivercenter, near the convention center. The program will include recognition of certification recipients, International Achievement Award-winning projects and individual contributions by industry professionals.

A Dynamic And Changing Industry
From its founding in 1912 as the National Tent & Awning Manufacturers Association, IFAI has evolved into an international organization comprising 13 divisions focused on specific sectors of the specialty fabrics industry, as well as two country sectors to serve members in Canada and Japan. The evolution reflects the dynamism of an industry that seems to reinvent itself every few years, according to Stephen M. Warner, president and CEO.

Warner, who has been with IFAI since 1976, has witnessed this evolution firsthand. "When I came to IFAI, the emphasis was on canvas products. Now it's industrial fabrics," he said. "Every week I hear of new applications - there seem to be thousands of them. And what keeps it exciting are the thousands of potential applications on the horizon." Areas of innovation he noted include filters, medical textiles and aerospace - even the space shuttle has textile components, he said, referring to the shock-absorbing ceramic fiber fabric that fills the gaps between the heat shield tiles.

Warner said the term "specialty" seems preferable to "technical" to describe the industrial fabric sector. "All fabric properties are technical, whether they be wicking, antimicrobial, permanent press, or whatever," he said. "'Specialty' refers to the niche applications that a particular fabric might serve.

"There is so much innovation in this sector," he continued as he discussed globalization and the removal of trade barriers. "Because specialty fabrics are not commodities, it is easier to protect against the threat of imports. Manufacturers produce limited runs and customize their products for unique applications."

Warner predicts 2- to 4-percent growth this year in the sector, and IFAI membership continues to grow as well, with a net gain so far this year of 83 members.

"We're on the right track," he declared. "With this year's expo, we anticipate good international participation, especially from Latin America. San Antonio is a unique destination, and this year's symposia are very attractive. We also have our magazines [Industrial Fabric Products Review and several others for IFAI's assorted divisions]; we provide advice and resources to our members; and we're concerned with best practices and promoting textile applications."

September 2005