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The scope of technical textiles

The term “technical textiles” was coined in the 1980s to describe the growing variety of products and manufacturing techniques being developed primarily for their technical properties and performance rather than their appearance or other aesthetic characteristics. It largely superseded an earlier term “industrial textiles” (still widely used in the USA) which had become too restrictive in its meaning to describe the full complexity and richness of this fast growing area. A major international exhibition, Techtextil, was launched in 1985 to reflect the growth of technical textiles and soon developed a simple taxonomy that has been used ever since to describe the scope of this new industry and market sector.

  • Agrotech – agriculture, horticulture, forestry and aquaculture textiles
  • Buildtech – building and construction textiles
  • Clothtech – technical components of shoes and clothing e.g. linings
  • Geotech – geotexiles and civil engineering materials
  • Hometech – technical components of furniture, household textiles & floorcoverings
  • Indutech – textiles for industrial applications filtration, conveying, cleaning etc
  • Medtech – hygiene and medical products
  • Mobiltech– automobiles, shipping, railways and aerospace
  • Oekotech – environmental protection
  • Packtech – packaging materials
  • Protech – personal and property protection
  • Sporttech– sport and leisure

Within each of these headings are literally hundreds of products and applications for textiles, some traditional, some replacing other well-established materials and techniques, and some that have been newly created by the unique properties and capabilities of textile materials and structures. The automotive industry is not only one of the largest single markets for technical textiles but also one of the most diverse. Applications range from tyre cord, hose and drive belt reinforcements to thermal and sound insulation, safety belts and airbags, filters, cable harnesses and textile reinforced composites for body and suspension parts. Even the internal furnishings of a car headliners, seating, carpets, parcel shelf and trunk liners are all regarded as technical textiles because of the extremely demanding specifications to which they are made and tested. As just one other example, the medical and hygiene textiles market ranges from high volume disposable products for babies’ nappies, feminine hygiene and adult incontinence through to extremely specialised and high value textile products for use in blood filtration, surgical sutures, prostheses and, most recently, scaffolds for new tissue growth.

The economic importance of technical textiles

The new promise of technical and performance textiles is an emerging generation of products combining the latest developments in advanced flexible materials with advances in computing and communications technology, biomaterials, nanotechnology and novel process technologies such as plasma treatment.

These will eventually have a direct impact upon all sorts of consumer textile markets, including both clothing and furnishings. The field of ‘wearable electronics’ has already captured the imagination of many researchers and large corporations and, although most products on the market today are relatively unsophisticated ‘implants’ of conventional electronics and wiring, the prospect of truly ‘interactive textiles embodying sensors, actuators and logic circuits built into the structure of the fibres, yarns and fabrics themselves is not impossibly far-fetched.

‘Technical Textiles’ already sounds an inadequate term to describe much of what is going on in this exciting new market.

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