Developments to watch in nonwovens and technical textiles.
By Dr. Seshadri Ramkumar
India is being watched carefully by the global community due to its economic growth numbers and growing political stature in the world. Investments from North American and European companies are already underway: Finland-based Ahlstrom will soon commission a $47 million facility for developing spunmelt medical fabrics in the State of Gujarat, India; Strata Geosystems India Pvt. Ltd. has been established as a joint venture with Strata Inc., U.S.A., which is part of Glen Raven. Opportunities are increasing in India for capital investments, technology collaboration and trade relationships.
Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, has been actively engaging with India since 2004, providing an international platform to present the latest research, and sharing technical and marketing ideas by conducting an annual international conference, Advances in Textiles, Machinery, Nonwovens and Technical Textiles (ATNT). On Dec. 7–9, 2009, Texas Tech University rolled out the 6th edition of ATNT as a collaborative event with the Bannari Amman Institute of Technology (BIT) on the BIT campus in Sathyamangalam in South India. BIT is an engineering school managed by the Bannari Amman Group, a business conglomerate with interests in textiles, auto dealerships, sugar and spirits.
ATNT-2009 was supported by IFAI, INDA, the Nonwovens Engineers and Technologists Division of TAPPI, the Plains Cotton Growers of Lubbock, Texas, the Society of Dyers and Colourists, India, The Textile Institute, U.K., The Southern India Mill Owners Association, Coimbatore, India, and the Tiruppur Exporters Association, India. This is the first time that the conference had received broad-based support from the U.S., U.K. and India. More than 150 people from seven countries (U.S, Egypt, Hong Kong–China, India, Czech Republic, Turkey and Italy) participated. The conference offered attendees time for networking as well, to enjoy Indian cuisine and culture.
Due to the importance of the textiles industry in India, valued at $62 billion, the conference also received support from the government of India. Mrs. Panabaaka Lakshmi, the Union Minister of State for Textiles, inaugurated the conference. Mrs. Lakshmi, who is number two in the Ministry of Textiles, India, outlined some of the schemes which are having positive impacts on the textile industry, such as the Technology Upgradation Scheme (TUF) and the Scheme for Integrated Textile Parks. TUF covers the nonwovens and technical textiles sector as well; in the current phase, emphasis has been placed on weaving, processing and technical textiles, as these are currently the weakest links in the Indian textile industry. Under this scheme, the government of India will provide a 10 percent capital subsidy and 5 percent interest subsidy on technical textile projects involving new machinery. In addition, the government allows the import of technical textiles machinery under concessional base import duty.
A global platform
ATNT-2009 provided a platform for the international academic and business communities to learn about the current situation and future potential for investments in India. In addition, participants focused on finding solutions to some of the difficulties faced by the Indian textile industry, and providing information on new market opportunities for global players. The major thrust of the conference was to bring industry, academia and government agencies together on a single platform.
Twenty-five technical sessions and a record number of 140 papers were presented over the three days. The technical sessions opened with a plenary talk, “Reacting to Change—Unlimited Opportunities in the Textile Marketplace,” by Curtis White of AEGIS Environmental, Midland, Mich., U.S.A. He provided an overview of the new opportunities in the textiles sector and how the textile industry has to adapt to the changes in the global marketplace, and emphasized the use of specialty products such as biocides and functional materials to enhance product and performance characteristics. White also encouraged the Indian textile industry to concentrate on adding value with the use of specialty products. Currently, India does not have a well-organized manufacturing sector for specialty products such as biocidal chemicals and flame retardants, and there is a need for research and development in this area. The 6th edition of the ATNT placed particular emphasis on value-added textiles, nonwovens, technical textiles and cotton.
In my keynote address, as organizing secretary of ATNT-2009, I emphasized the need for a textile revolution in India to help reach a desired growth rate of 8 percent, focusing on the need for technology, favorable government policies and knowledge transfer for growing partnership opportunities in the industry. Other technical presenters discussed a number of industry growth areas.
R. Saravanan and his team from Kumaraguru College of Technology, India, presented results on the development of composite fibers using chicken feather fibers (10-30 mm). These fibers possess high toughness, good thermal and acoustic insulation properties; their low density and enhanced aspect ratio enable them to be good reinforcing materials. The authors used compression molding techniques to develop chicken fiber-polypropylene composites. In the United States, Auburn University has also undertaken projects to find value-added applications for chicken feather fibers, with funding support from the United States Department of Agriculture. PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore, has also conducted research. It is necessary to consider the possible pollution, environmental and health effects from dealing with animal fibers such as chicken feather fibers, due to possible bird flu pandemics. A cost-benefit analysis must be worked out to permit commercial applications of these fibers.
Given the availability of natural fibers such as jute, pineapple, banana and coir in India, many research institutions are working on applied aspects to find industrial applications. An interesting paper by India-based textile consultant A. Subramaniam focused on the use of coir-based products for applications in automobile-reinforcing materials and inflatable textiles to prevent floods. In the U.S., Waco-based Hobbs Bonded Fibers is working with Baylor University (also in Waco, Texas) on value-added textiles from coir.
Papers on natural dyes were also well received. Research by Sivakumar and Jayaprakasam of the Bannari Amman Institute of Technology on the yellow flowers of Helichrysum bracteatum showed that this natural dye also has antibacterial activity against E coli, Proteus vulgaris and Salmonella typhi, providing new information on the functional (value-added) characteristics of natural dyes.
Some of the “hot” papers at the conference focused on nonwoven processes, enzyme and plasma treatments. A group from Coimbatore used atmospheric plasma and cellulase enzyme treatments to alter the hydrophilicity of cotton fabrics. With the advent of atmospheric plasma in commercial settings, the textile industry has been showing great interest in adopting the technology for the functional modification of textiles. Recently, our Nonwovens and Advanced Materials Laboratory at Texas Tech has been collaborating with Wisconsin-based Enercon Industries to take the atmospheric pressure plasma application to spunmelt nonwovens, with the aim of enhancing the moisture transport properties of synthetic nonwovens. Results so far show that plasma modification enhances the moisture vapor transport in polypropylene nonwovens; the mechanism behind this phenomenon is under investigation. Researchers from PSG College of Technology presented results on the use of argon plasma as a precursor to natural product (neem extract) antibacterial treatment. The authors posit that the enhancement of hydrophilicity is due to the plasma etching of textile fabrics.
Plasma treatment is also attracting the interest of the Indian textile industry. Prof. Jhala of the Institute for Plasma Research, Ahmedabad, has pioneered the use of plasma to improve the surface characteristics of angora fibers, and has helped with the spinnability of fibers. The use of atmospheric pressure plasma technology in textiles showcases the success of multidisciplinary research and development involving physics, electrical engineering and material science disciplines.
Papers on the conversion of nonwoven roll goods to end-use products generated wide-ranging discussion. India badly needs the converting sector, and information on wipe-folding machines, wet wipe formulation and the diaper-making process can be of immense value. C.K. Wong, CEO of U.S. Pacific Nonwovens Ltd., Hong Kong, a potential investor, discussed converting nonwoven fabrics into useful products. Dr. Larry Wadsworth, also with U.S. Pacific Nonwovens, presented the advantages of using Biax meltblown fabrics for developing high-strength wipes and filters. U.S. Pacific Nonwovens and Greenville, Wisconsin-based Biax-Fiberfilm Corp. are actively engaged in taking the Biax technology to Asia.
Cotton occupies an important place in the international textile trade. Textile-related associations in India and cotton producers’ associations in the U.S. and elsewhere are pleading for a fair and balanced policy approach for the producers and end-user community.
ATNT-09 featured a special session on cotton: six papers by pre-eminent personalities in the field, including developments in the cotton seed industry, the situation of U.S. and Texas cotton yield and quality, quality evaluation and developments in cotton spinning.
Roger Haldenby represented the Plains Cotton Growers of Texas, the largest cotton-producing state in the U.S. One of the goals of the ATNT conference was to help the Indian textile industry to know more about the U.S. crop and its potential for high-quality yarns and fabrics. Dr. Sreenivasan, director of the Central Institute for Research on Cotton Technology, Mumbai, emphasized the need for developing cotton-based nonwovens and technical textiles. His organization has successfully developed particle boards from cotton stalks, with the support of a global funding agency. India produces 10 million bales (170 kg each) of cotton, which are not well-suited for the conventional textile industry. Because these cottons can find value-added applications, there is growing interest in India in cotton-based technical textiles.
On the agenda
The conference brought the attention of the key policy makers in India to the need for a boost to the technical textiles sector. Soon, the government of India will roll out a Technical Mission on Technical Textiles: Global players will have opportunities for joint venture partnerships, technology transfer and investment opportunities. India permits 100 percent foreign direct investment in the textile sector, and is actively seeking international investments in India.
The technical papers presented at the conference are available on CD and may be obtained by contacting the author.