A related sector is material recycling. The governmental demand on recycling is increasing which also includes technical textiles. After their useful life, many technical textiles contain materials that still have an economic value, and there are several ways of how to make best use of the recycled product. Another challenge is to make a shift towards more sustainable agricultural production and at the same time, increase global food production. Different agro textiles are used to enhance crop production, ie nonwoven polytunnels, biodegradable nonwoven mulches and covers, geotextiles and greenhouse curtains. The potential is enormous, for example to cultivate dry lands, mulches and covers can be used to control the microclimate and reduce the need for irrigation. It is also possible to functionalise nonwoven to get a more effective and less hazardous use of pesticides and fertilizers.
The most obvious trend is the increasing demand for biobased materials like PLA, viscose, lyocell, bio-PP, bio-PET, starch and similar. It is still in its infancy, but will grow rapidly as the raw material prices decrease. Another trend is the increasing use of recycled materials, ie bottle PET to make staple fibres for carded nonwovens, and other recycled polymers will probably also increase. The recycling directives will also require that technical textiles are marked with proper recycling codes. Carded nonwovens are used more and more for composites where structural fibres like hemp or flax are co-mingled with melting fibres, ie PP or bi-co PLA, and then heated and compression moulded into a product that is light and at least partly biobased. In the furniture industry, there is a trend to replace white nonwovens with coloured nonwovens to get a less sensitive surface that also is more aesthetically appealing. It should also be mentioned that the production of thermobonded vertically-lapped nonwovens has matured, and is now able to compete with traditional polyurethane foams as a more sustainable alternative.
This is a very hard question. My guess is that new and more effective methods to make 3D-shaped textiles with printing, weaving or knitting techniques will be in focus this year. Also, innovations related to integrating electronics into textiles are hot, especially in the fashion industry, and I think we will see new applications during the coming years.
The development of piezoelectric fibres is a real technical achievement; the fibre is made by bi-component melt spinning where the core is electrically conductive and the sheath made of PVDF gives the piezoelectric effect. When the fibre is stretched a voltage is created between the core and a surrounding conductive coating which gives opportunities for sensors or energy harvesting incorporated in textiles. Another invention from Swerea is a bi-component fibre where the core is a phase changing polymer; the fibre can be used for temperature control in for example workwear, bed pillows, blankets, etc. To facilitate sheet metal forming, i.e. deep drawing, a method was developed at Swerea IVF where the normally used lubricant is replaced by a specially designed nonwoven. The result is that the need of product cleaning is reduced and that the amount of rejected products due to surface damage is decreased. By this method, it is even possible to form a pre-painted sheet metal. Some years ago, we developed a new type of electro-spinning nonwovens based on a fast rotating disc where a polymer solution is fed in the centre and then thrown outwards to form thin fibres by the centrifugal force. The fibres are then further stretched and collected by an electric field. The material has been used in filter applications with high demands on particle separation.
Swerea IVF offer technical competence for product and process development mainly in the following fields: nonwovens, meltblown, bi-component melt spinning, plasma treatment, surface modification, comfort, recycling, polymer compounding, flame retardants and medical textiles. Swerea IVF also offers a lot of standardised test methods, for example Oeko-tex, Martindale, chemical analyses, fire testing, UV-testing and moisture management. We also customise test methods for certain applications - both by adaption of existing methods and by development of new methods.
The future of the technical textile industry in Europe, ranging from small start-ups to consolidations and large companies, seems to be prospering. The textile industry appears to be more open for new innovations and to work in closer collaboration with the customers to meet their demands. Another focus area for European industry has been to implement the just in time philosophy; this has also improved the situation and competiveness of European sub-suppliers with considerably shorter lead times compared with ship transports from Asia.
DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of technicaltextile.net.