echnical textiles have made rapid advances, and the use of fabrics or nonwovens in
industrial applications is steadily increasing. All successes in this competitive, but highly
profit-yielding, segment are based on experience and know-how in traditional textile product
manufacturing. Only those companies that bring with them adequate experience of traditional
textiles production can create opportunities in this demanding but lucrative market.
Technical textiles are not a new invention. The ancient Egyptians knew how to
employ textile reinforcements. Today, technical textiles are one of the few sectors of the textile
industry that can report a constant turnover growth rate.
Nonwovens manufacturing grew out of traditional textile manufacturing.
Since the mid-1960s, technical textiles have made rapid advances. The greatest
market suppliers in this area already are organized on the basis of separate business areas. In
Germany, the share of technical textiles in total sales already stands at 40 percent.
One advantage in the sale of technical textiles is their proximity to market.
Most products are tailor-made. The most important point in production is the know-how, and there is
less emphasis on the quantity to be produced. Technical textiles are niche products, with the
exception of disposables in the nonwovens sector. This is another advantage for markets with
high-tech products, such as Western Europe or the United States. Industrial fabrics are not only a
substitute for traditional fabrics, but also have applications in new products. The list of
applications is endless. Just to mention a few:
care and hygiene;
The list of the individual links in the textile production chain is growing.
The producers of yarns and fabrics, as well as the finishers, must have an extremely good knowledge
of the material to be processed.
Nonwoven products are found in such products as personal care and hygiene, and
Solutions, Not Machinery
For traditional textile manufacturers, from fiber to finished textiles, it is
not necessarily important to know where the final product is to be employed. Precisely the reverse
is true in the technical textiles sector, where the product and the application are frequently
known prior to the production process being considered. Tailor-made products and manufacturing
processes are two of the basic reasons behind the continuing and overwhelming success of technical
textiles and nonwovens. One is not selling fashion, but rather function. It is vitally important to
have a change in attitude and stop thinking simply in terms of spinning or weaving. In somewhat
overstated terms, technical textiles suppliers do not want to buy machines, but solutions such as
those offered by upstream products.
Modern technical textiles must meet requirements relating to the following
for example in chemical cleaning; and
The understanding of these requirements allows conclusions and deductions to
be drawn with regard to further processing.
Transportation end-uses including car door panels are another example of typical nonwoven
For centuries, it was the raw materials employed that primarily decided the
behavior of a textile fabric in the finished article of clothing. However, at the end of the 1970s
and into the early 1980s, the jargons “apparel physiology” and “functional textiles” appeared in
The failing market for traditional textiles presented an opportunity for the
development of new products based on the extensive know-how of conventional textile production.
These efforts were supported by the man-made fiber industry in Europe and Japan, which created
ever-better, tailor-made yarns. Using leisure and sportswear as a locomotive, this branch generated
massive levels of activity that have continued up to the present. Initial signals for a rethink
within the entire textile sector have derived from technical textiles.
Very expensive fibers like glass, Teflon®, carbon fibers and aramids are used
today for protection against heat and in composite materials. For technical textiles, the man-made
fibers applied in most cases are polyester, polyamide and polypropylene. The fibers are selected
based on their characteristics. Carbon fibers are used for moldings in lightweight constructions
such as aircraft. A current example is the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which uses 20-percent less fuel
thanks to lightweight construction.
The relative equilibrium in global fiber consumption that previously existed
is now the object of constant change. In the recent past, reference was almost always made to a
ratio of approximately 50:50 between natural and man-made fibers. At present, cotton has only a
37-percent share of global fiber consumption, and wool has 3 percent.
The development of technical textiles plays an outstanding role in this fiber
use ratio change. In addition, improved fibers and improved fabrics have steadily corrected the
previous negative image of man-made fibers. Experts predict that by 2010, man-made fibers will have
a global market share of 72 percent, cotton 26 percent and wool 2 percent.
None of the made-made fibers introduced over the last two decades have had
such an impact as microfibers. Microfiber fabrics have many unique characteristics. Microfilament
nonwovens with functional characteristics also are on the winning side. The first super microfiber
was the Japanese product Alcantara, which had a yarn count of less than 0.08 decitex.
The lightweight composite construction of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner reduces fuel
Cotton is by far the world’s most important natural fiber, with a market share
of around 75 percent. Over the years, global cotton production has grown slowly but steadily. The
nonwovens industry has long recognized the advantages of cotton and produces numerous cotton items,
especially in the medical and hygiene sectors.
The fiber quality demanded by the traditional textile industry is not the only
decisive factor in this connection — certain waste fibers can also be recycled back into
production. Various companies — from machinery producers to finishers — with a mastery of cotton
fibers, have already adopted this approach. Hydroentangled, or spunlace, and airlaid nonwovens made
of mostly cotton fiber webs are currently the products most in demand. Lightweight nonwovens for
medical and hygiene products are flourishing.
Needlepunching technology, such as Germany-based Dilo’s Multipunch, is gaining ground
because it is flexible, yet sophisticated.
Long-staple fibers have enormous potential, but are insufficiently exploited
by the countries capable of producing them. Jute and other bast fibers are biodegradable and
therefore enjoy a major sympathy bonus. Although jute and similar fibers are insignificant in
apparel, in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, they play an extremely important role in the packing,
home and technical textiles areas. After cotton, jute and wool, flax is fourth in the global
natural fiber production rankings, and, like jute, it possesses enormous potential.
Long-staple fibers have been used with growing success in technical textiles.
Accordingly, it is forecast that natural fibers will be employed to an increasing extent in the
automotive sector for both economic and ecological reasons. Flax, sisal and hemp meet the high
requirements for tensile, bending and tearing strength, while jute and other fibers also offer
possibilities for technical and automotive applications.
By 2010, man-made fibers will have a more-than-70-percent share of the fiber
market. The cotton industry in general and in the West in particular are looking for new ideas. One
possibility could be nonwovens. As the demand for nonwovens has steadily increased, it has been met
by the technology and ingenuity of raw materials and equipment suppliers, nonwoven producers and
converters. The production of nonwovens can be described as taking place in three stages:
• web formation;
• web bonding; and
The opportunity to combine different raw materials and different techniques
accounts for the diversity of the industry and its products. Staple-fiber nonwoven manufacturing
begins with arranging fibers in a sheet or web. The fibers can be staple fibers packed in bales, or
filaments extruded from molten polymer granules.
Four methods are used to form a web, and nonwovens are usually referred to by
one of these methods:
Nonwovens are an important aspect of the 21st-century textile industry, and
have an annual growth of at least 4.5 percent — a figure the traditional textile industry would be
pleased to achieve. Because the trend is toward increasingly lightweight products, the growth in
quantity or meterage actually amounts to 12 percent. Today, the nonwovens sector is moving away
from disposables in the direction of more durable products. Spunlace, thermobonding and needlefelt
technologies are all gaining ground. Needlepunching technology is gaining more and more ground for
many reasons, including its flexibility and the sophisticated machinery, as well as the easy
treatment of all kinds of fibers including recycled fiber materials. Geotextiles, automotive
materials and filter media occupy the limelight, as do bicomponent fibers for every conceivable
quality of composite.
Throughout the textile chain, the word “sustainability” is no longer an empty
phrase, and recycling is growing in significance. Because the majority of thermoplastic man-made
fibers are easy to recycle, products that formerly consisted of various components have now been
restructured to allow recycling. Adding recycled fiber material of at least 10 percent to new
products is reducing raw material costs considerably. For example, recycled polyester fibers from
PET bottles are used with great success in products offered by the United States-based outdoor
apparel brand Patagonia®.
More than 10-percent recycled material can be added to nonwovens products during
processing, thereby saving materials costs.
Finishing plays an outstanding role in the production of technical textiles.
Knowledge of the finishing processes employed — such as coating, finishing or surface treatment —
also is extremely important to the up- and downstream production phases because finishing generally
has a direct link to the finished article. Appropriate finishing can make a fairly simple
manufactured fabric or nonwoven into a high-performance product. Processes such as flame-resistant
lamination or coating with solvent-based chemicals, which have negative environmental effects, are
Let’s Work Together
Construction using textiles is one of the oldest architectonic forms in human
history. Today, because of their outstanding economic and ecological advantages, textile
constructions are an indispensable element of modern architecture. Modern sports stadiums have
membrane roofs. The example of working together to create a sports stadium shows that there are a
lot of manufacturers in the production chain:
• fiber producer;
• yarn producer;
The challenge is to inform all participating parties of the technical textiles
possibilities. A successful job can be done only if the owner and the architect know that a
membrane rather than concrete is the ideal material for the roof covering. The biggest obstacle to
technical textiles communication in all production stages is the enormous variety of application
fields. One must build up a market image through competence and become a credible supplier, and
literally take the product to the market.
In the age of global networking, most companies now recognize that one has to
follow the market. Those wishing to enter the technical textiles market must gather information
concerning the relevant possibilities and facts. The industry incorporates virtually every textile
process including some specially developed for this sector. The problem is that little valuable
information is available for technical textiles. One solution is Messe Frankfurt’s Techtextil
exhibition for technical textiles. Only at Techtextil is the whole spectrum of technical textiles
and nonwovens and their applications shown. One key to Techtextil’s success is the fact that this
technical exhibition communicates not merely with textile target groups; it is particularly
concerned with future stages for the products.
Despite written agreements, cell phones and e-communications, every
relationship takes place between people. It is services to the manufacturing industry that
constitute the decisive factor. If one wants to be a successful player in the field of industrial
fabrics, he must earn a reputation and gain the customer’s trust that he’s able to solve problems
by developing a new product.