Technical Textiles (TT) are defined as “Textile materials and products used primarily for their technical performance and functional properties rather than their aesthetic or decorative characteristics” (Textile Institute: Textiles Terms and Definitions)
Other terms used for describing technical textiles include industrial textiles, functional textiles, performance textiles, engineering textiles, invisible textiles and hi-tech textiles. Excepting for industrial textiles, these other terms are more journalistic than definitive. Industrial textiles is informatively defined as “A category of Technical Textiles used either as part of an industrial process or incorporated into final products”
Awareness of the advanced value in textiles has an influence on traditional manufacturing to appreciate the spirit of innovation, place mind set beyond yarn and grey cloth, and attempt to generate an enhanced contribution to technical textile development.
Today, textile fibres are significantly serving applications including. Automotive, Aerospace, Medical & Hygiene, Construction, Interiors, Technical Apparel, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE?), Geotextiles, Sports & Leisure, Agriculture & Horticulture, Filtration, General Engineering and Packaging. There are several textile articles or constituting units from the construction and design of cabin to highly specialised clothing products including g- suits for pilots, and entry suits for space shuttle where significant contribution of textile fibres is evident.
Technical Textiles Application Cycle
As the above shows there are many products classified as technical textiles and end-uses for them are increasing day by day, on account of the technological innovations taking place in fibres, polymer materials and production processes in different parts of the world. A more detailed account of the product areas within each of the 13 market sectors is given in the sub-sections listed in the Knowledge Platform Market Sectors menu.
Technical Textiles v Conventional Textiles
The world market for technical textiles was estimated to be around 19.68 million tonnes with a value of US$ 107 billion during 2005 and, over the subsequent five years, to have increased to 23.77 million tonnes with a value of US$ 127 billion in 2010. However, the value generally of global textiles and clothing is estimated to be $700 bn (2012), and from this perspective TT only accounts for 25% of textiles production worldwide (See Fig.1), but it is the fastest growing category. Overall growth rates of technical textiles are about 4.0%per annum, whereas for apparel and home textiles the per annum growth rate only amounts to 1.0%. This is attributed to greater demand for product versatility, durability and enhanced functionalities by end-users in areas such as personal safety; high strength/ lighter weight replacement materials for metals; medical and health care, electronic and telecommunications, environmental products; and logistical convenience. Currently, the more dominant regions of TT manufacturing are those with developed economies, in particular the US & Canada, Europe, and Japan, where TT represent around 60% of their textiles production, with only 20% in newly industrialised countries, but the latter is steadily growing.
Fig 1 - World Market Size of Technical Textiles
Technical Textiles Fibre Consumption
Technical textiles are generally held to account for 40% of the world’s annual consumption of fibres, both natural and man-made. However, predominantly man-made (incl. inorganic fibres/yarns) are used (see Table 1) because of their inherent advantages of strength and versatility, and this trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future
Table 1 - World Fibre consumption for technical textiles
Polyolefin (Polyethylene & Polypropylene) and polyester account for 50 % of the fibre consumption followed by glass at 15 % and jute at 14 %. Cotton and viscose fibres account for 7 % and 6 % respectively, while other fibres come within the remaining 8%. The high-performance fibres and yarns, such as the aramids, carbon fibre, etc, account for only 1 % of the total textile materials used in technical textile applications, but are the dominant raw materials used for the manufacture of higher value, specialised products in various sectors, e.g. aerospace components, protective clothing, composites, high temperature filters, lightweight sports equipment, etc.
European consumption of fibres for the production of TT products is estimated to be over 3mil tonnes. The leading EU countries, in order, are Germany, France and the UK; the indications are that TT-production will become a greater part of these countries textile production. In Germany, technical textiles already represent 60% of fibre consumption ( year:2012) and this figure is expected to grow in future years (See Fig.2). Other European countries show a similar trend
Fig. 2 Growth in Fibre Consumption for the Production of Technical Textiles (Germany)
Technical Textiles Consumption in World Markets
Fig.3 indicates that despite the general down turn, from 2007, in the world economic climate, global consumption of technical textiles has shown a steady growth, largely in Asia (see Table 2).
Fig3 World End-use Consumption of Technical Textiles, 1995 -2010 in Volume and Value
Table 2 World Technical Textiles Consumption by Region 1995 -2010 (‘000 tons)
The below data illustrates the dominance of Asia in the world consumption of technical textiles (Fig.4).
Fig.4 Percentage Consumption by World Region
As synthetic fibres are key raw materials for technical textiles, and are increasingly being produced by lower cost countries (See Fig.6) there will be ever increasing competition from such countries entering the TT market sectors . However, a significant factor is, the TT-Industry is one that is knowledge-based and R&D focused.
Products being marketed in each sector can be grouped into commodity products, customized products, and niche products. The latter two are the high-value technical textiles, and the development of such products requires significant R&D support (technical textiles is included in the EU and national strategies for R&D funding support) and “know-how” in application of new technologies. Usually, these technical textile products are created in a close relationship between the manufacturer and the customer so as to ensure tailor-made solutions to specific user requirements. So, although the developing economies are major areas of the global market for growth in technical textiles (the potential in India is huge, presently it accounts for only 1% of global market), they do not have as yet the in-depth experience in R&D and innovation management to effectively compete in the high-value end of the 13 market sectors. Innovation in new materials, processes and products is an inherent feature of these high-value product areas, and expenditure on research and development (R&D) is higher than for 'conventional' and commodity textiles (reaching up to 8-10% of turnover, compared to the industry average of 3-5%) . In the tailoring of fibre properties, yarns and fabrics, to attain new ways of enhanced functionalities, such as antibacterial/antimicrobial, anti-static, UV & thermal protection, and Biodegradable? functions, intellectual property is playing an increasingly defining role in achieving the performance requirements and technical specifications which determine the market success of such high-value products.
Fig.6 World Production of Synthetic Fibres
Fig 7: Western Europe’s consumption of technical fibres by application (Euratex estimate for 2004 based on Eurostat 2004 and OETH 2000)