High-performance textiles and nonwovens are targeted for growth.
By Dr. Roshan Shishoo
The textile industry sector in many Asian countries plays an important role in their national industrial output and constitutes a notable share of their gross national products. For years, the textile industry in many parts of Asia has been associated mainly with the production of apparel and household textiles produced for regional and global markets. Comparatively low costs and high paybacks for production of these commodity goods have had a positive effect on business growth and strong export potential. The market share of technical textiles produced in the emerging economies of Asia on a global basis is still not significant, and the increasing domestic demand for many of these advanced textiles is currently met through imports.
High economic growth and social advances in many Asian countries have resulted in better educational systems, greater use of information technology, significant improvements in infrastructure, increased leisure time, increased awareness of personal well-being and good health care programs. As a result, the market needs for technical textiles are growing considerably in these countries. For example, some governments have introduced diverse programs aimed at significant improvements in the country’s infrastructure and the health care of the population. They are also introducing new measures to improve personal protection of employees working in factories, construction sites and security services. These measures are not surprisingly having a positive effect on the larger use of technical textiles in a growing number of government-run and private sectors.
Increasing numbers of textile companies in Asia are fast learning the key characteristics of successful technical textiles businesses, such as understanding market needs and securing suitable raw materials and manufacturing technologies. These businesses are in the process of implementing strategies that are aimed at producing technical textiles domestically, and lessening their dependence on imports of all required products and technologies. In the technical textiles sector, strategic discussions on licensing, subcontracting, outsourcing and acquisition are taking place between many Asian companies and their counterparts in Europe and North America.
Demand and supply
The demand for technical textiles in many Asian countries is growing at the rate of 10–13 percent per year, and in some sectors such as technical nonwovens a much higher growth rate is estimated. In general, high market growth is expected in the subsectors of geotextiles/geosynthetics, automotive textiles, agricultural textiles, flexible architectural structures, textile composites, protective textiles and health care materials.
China and India, the two major economies in Asia, have recently initiated programs designed to facilitate the growth of production and applications of technical textiles. Many of the challenges facing these two countries are similar as far as market needs and production strategies are concerned. For example, due to their size and population, as well as the significant socioeconomical progress achieved in recent years, both countries need strong improvement in infrastructure components. Major infrastructure projects such as roads, railways, hydroelectric dams and airports require large amounts of high-performance geotextiles and geosynthetics. China already produces a significant amount of these products.
Regarding domestic demand for technical textiles in China, major identified markets of interest are construction, hygiene, medical, filtration and agriculture. China ranks second in the world (and first in Asia) in wind energy generation, which makes it an ideal market for textile composites used in making wind turbine blades. Many regions in China are prone to flood damage, and that has opened a large market in terms of flood control engineering. The government of India has recently launched a five-year national mission on technical textiles to boost the growth of the nonwovens and technical textiles sector. Four new centers of excellence to enhance R & D capabilities in India are planned in the area of nonwovens, composites, industrial textiles and textiles in sport. The Indian government had previously chosen geotextiles as a priority area also. Strategies are being drafted in India for strengthening marketing and boosting both domestic consumption and export opportunities for technical textiles.
Automotive production in Asia, besides Japan, is gaining strong momentum, with China leading the way, followed by South Korea and now India. The automotive textile industry is strong in many Asian countries such as China, Japan, India, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, Pakistan and Malaysia. The global market for automotive interiors is expected to reach an estimated US $210 billion in the year 2015, and Asian markets will consume a significant amount of these textiles.
Automotive textiles represent the most valuable world market for technical textiles; these materials cover a broad range of applications, including upholstery and seating, floor covering and trunk liners, as well as safety belts, airbags, thermal and sound insulators, filters, hoses, tires and a variety of textile-reinforced flexible and hard composites.
Health care products is another market sector in Asia’s emerging economies that has a large growth potential. Increased life expectancy, better health care programs and higher disposable incomes are some important factors that will create a huge market for both nonwovens and woven fabric-based products. The domestic market volume of these products is generally proportional to the population of a country, and this subsector of the technical textiles industry is obviously of special interest to all countries in Asia. Currently the big market players in advanced health care and hygiene products in Asia are mainly some large European and U.S. companies. However, a greater involvement in production and sales of these products by regional Asian companies is foreseen for the near future.
The market for personal protective clothing and equipment in Asia is growing at a high rate, and will continue to do so due to the increasing participation of Asian countries in global legislation, regulations and international standards that govern the manufacture and use of such products. Nonwovens constitute an integral part of technical textiles. A significant increase in the use of nonwovens in protective and hospital clothing in different high-function applications is expected to continue in many Asian countries.
Early stages of growth
Strong growth in Asia is expected in technical nonwovens markets for industrial applications such as filter media in HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) filters, dust filters, air filters, cabin filters and battery filters. Another growth sector is technical textiles used in construction and architectural applications, including products such as tents, awnings, canopies, tensile fabric structures, roof overlays, thermal and acoustical insulation products, and staple fibers for reinforcing concrete.
Due to factors such as ongoing strong socioeconomic growth and new strategies adapted by governments and business leaders in the textile industry, the future for technical textiles markets in Asian countries looks both exciting and highly promising. The huge size and strong growth potential of technical textiles markets in Asia offers great opportunities for companies in North America and Europe to be part of this industrial surge. Direct marketing of products, setting up owned production facilities and joint ventures with Asian counterparts are just a few of the opportunities now available to manufacturers seeking international markets.