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Marc Van Parys
Marc Van Parys
President
Unitex
Unitex

Digital technologies still a niche, but gap closing fast

Unitex is a non-profit organisation for the textiles industry with members in Belgium and neighbouring countries like the Netherlands, Germany, France and Italy. Its activities include technical assistance for members, conducting workshops, mini-symposia and international congresses (bi-annual digital textile congress, bi-annual coating and laminating congress and a tri-annual carpet congress). Unitex has also has invested in several national and European research projects dealing with sustainability issues in textiles. President Marc Van Parys discusses in detail the application of coated textiles and the latest technologies in this segment.

What is the global market size for coated/laminated textiles? What is the expected growth rate by 2020?

The tech-textile market was estimated at €138 billion in 2017 and is projected to reach €184 billion by 2022, or a CAGR of 5.9 per cent. This important increase is fuelled by the increasing demand from end-use industries, more favourable conditions of countries and increasing end-use applications, including new end-uses where actually non-textiles are used. The global coating market amounts to €4.7 billion and is projected to reach €5.8 billion by 2021 at a CAGR of 3.5 per cent.

Which are the top industry applications of coated textiles? Where do you see the applications growing?

The demand for coated textile is driven and triggered by the various industrial markets ranging from: 
  • Buildtech: textile for buildings and constructions
  • Mobiltech:  transport such as automotive; airplanes, cruiseships;
  • Indutech: industrial (gas - shale gas - oil - textile for urbanisation especially in emerging economies);
  • Protech: especially protective clothing;
  • Packtech: packaging.
Asia-Pacific dominates the textile coating market with China as the largest consumer of textile coatings worldwide. Other emerging important countries are the UAE, Argentina, India, Australia, South Africa, Malaysia and Chile. Moreover, the ensuing increase in investments and rise in number of manufacturing establishments are expected to lead Asia-Pacific as the prime driver for the growth of coated textile.

Some figures concerning important markets for coated textiles:
  • Health care fabrics: estimated figure of €10.96 billion by 2022 and a CAGR growth of 6.4 per cent;
  • Anti-microbial market (medical, home, commercial apparel will rise to €914 million by 2016 with a CAGR of 7.4 per cent;
  • Cooling fabric market is estimated a €2.5 billion by 2021;
  • Global protective clothing.
It is estimated that the one of the main markets is protective clothing involving garments or textile materials which are worn to safeguard personnel from coming in contact with hostile elements or environments. It reduces the risk of the person wearing protective clothing from injury, damage or death. The global protective clothing market is poised to grow at a CAGR of around 6.8 per cent over the next decade to reach approximately €11 billion by 2022. The global fire-resistant fabrics market is projected to reach €4.5 billion by 2021 at a CAGR of 5.3 per cent from 2016 to 2021.  Moreover, the rising demand for protective clothing from various end-use industries such as oil & gas, construction & manufacturing, and chemicals is boosting to drive the chemical and fire-resistant fabrics markets. 

The leading position of Europe in the global fire-resistant fabrics market is attributed to the stringent industrial standardisations pertaining to safety at the workplace. Because of this, chemical protective clothing is mandatory in Europe under REACH workplace safety laws and voluntary in the Americas under the OSHA guidelines. In contrast, it finds little usage in developing nations in the APAC and MEA regions.  However, there are still factors such as high production cost and fluctuating raw material cost, affecting the pricing structure thereby restraining the growth of this market. 

(sources: marketandmarkets and researchandmarkets)

Which popular technologies are being used in this industry?

Today, the most popular roll-to-roll coating technologies are based on knife coating, roller and transfer systems. In case of finishing, continuous padding is still the most used technology. 

However, in the last decades too few technological innovations have been realised with little differences in textile coating and laminating processes and chemistry. Most textile processes, including coating, are often too empirical and still too dominated by fundamental craftsmanship. Moreover, there is a growing demand for textile products that have been produced using sustainability operations and for producing products closer to the market with shorter lead times, quicker market response and possibility of smaller batch sizes. Modified or new emerging technologies will change and contribute to rethinking/reinventing the production chain, using less chemicals, reducing natural resources (water, energy) smart or local deposition of new functionalities and applying new chemistry (polymers, additives). These technologies will revolutionise the actual coating/laminating industry and will create tailor-made solutions for customers and end-users and new end-uses. 

Tell us about a few breakthrough technologies for manufacturing coated textiles using plasma and laser. Which countries and companies are pioneers in this field?

Today the focus is on novel coating and laminating technologies and on multifunctional and smart products, smart processes, smart marketing and smart end-uses. On the level of processing, we see the pendulum swinging from wet to eco-friendlier, 'dry' technologies.  Pressure from the governments, safety regulations in the workplace are curbed by high production costs and fluctuating cost of raw materials restrict often grow. Dry technologies can counteract these challenges and fit within the objectives of Europe's initiative Horizon 2020 (from wet to dry). 

Some of these technologies such as laser-engineering, low-pressure plasma and hotmelt/powder are already embedded in our industry; others such as irradiation (UV-LED-EB), liquid CO2, and digital coating technologies are still in the waiting room and will be introduced shortly in our companies. Especially West-European countries (Germany, Belgium, France, Italy and others) are pioneers in this field. 

These new emerging 'dry' technologies save natural resources (less of no water usage and related lower energy consumption) and minimise waste and chemical consumption. At the same time these dry technologies contribute to a bigger flexibility (also profitable for short runs) and versatility (different natural and synthetic materials, blends and even thermosensitive materials). In case of digital technologies, sustainable industrial initiatives drive actions.

Tell us about a few breakthrough technologies for manufacturing coated textiles using plasma and laser. Which countries and companies are pioneers in this field?
Published on: 15/05/2018

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 Fibre2Fashion.com.

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