Developments in fabrics and fibers offering advanced and multiple functionalities continue to drive the industry.
By Michael Kutsenko, Ph.D.
What are the most exciting or intriguing developments in the industry in advanced textiles?
While we all want to see rapid development of intelligent textiles, it is the creation of multifunctional fibers and fabrics that is more important for the industry. Of course many of us would like to connect our shirts, jackets or coats to our smartphones and have the apparel function as a charger, extended antenna, huge high-resolution screen or a Bluetooth speaker. Although all of this is quite possible, I don’t believe this is what the textiles industry needs the most.
Fibers and fabrics that possess and combine multiple and changing functionalities are the most intriguing developments in advanced textiles. Just imagine fabrics that can change properties, becoming hydrophilic or hydrophobic based on the situation. Think about the benefits of clothing that can transport moisture from your body keeping you comfortably cool and dry, while at the same time they are impervious to water and protect from rainfall.
Another example of multifunctionality may be the fabrics with a built-in heat sink. These fabrics cool you down when your body temperature rises and warm you up when you are chilled or in freezing conditions.
Are new technologies finding their applications and markets? If so, where is the most robust growth occurring or likely to occur in the near future? If not, what’s holding up the implementation of new technologies?
Eventually new technologies and new products find their niche and applications. Even if at a particular moment in time the technology seems to be too expensive, it will ultimately find its way into the marketplace if such technology or product provides a unique combination of desired properties. Usually the hurdles are high price or lack of necessary components, but both of these factors can be overcome by the benefits of new offerings.
What new products and/or processes are being developed now that will have the most profound impact on the way in which end-product manufacturers do business tomorrow?
Advanced multilayer nonwovens and their manufacturing processes top my list. New technology recently developed by Reicofil (Reifenhäuser Group, Germany) offers the possibility of manufacturing a one-step multilayer composite nonwoven fabric. These nonwoven composites combine multiple spunbond and meltblown layers allowing engineered-on-demand permeability and barrier properties. This technology allows significant reduction in fabric weight with a combination of properties typical of much heavier-weight fabrics. Reicofil-4 production lines are capable of producing more than 2,000 kg/hr of highly advanced nonwovens and require only a five-man crew to operate. The field is constantly growing and innovation continues to bring new offerings to the marketplace.
Who is driving new developments, the researchers or the market?
I am a strong believer that necessity is the mother of invention. I always give credit to the researchers who introduce new ideas, but in reality, market trends drive new developments in textiles. When the market presents a new opportunity, scientists and engineers have a strong incentive to develop new products and technologies. When sports apparel manufacturers introduced new approaches utilizing polyester/spandex and nylon/spandex fiber blends for high-performance sportswear, fiber and fabric producers responded with a combination of special cross-section micro-denier fibers with advanced-surface treatments. When the housing market demanded a carpet with better stain resistance than nylon, but with better wear resilience than traditional polyester or polypropylene, the new PTT fibers (also known as 3GT, or Triexta) were commercialized.
What is the market demanding and how is your company or research team responding to market demands?
Goulston Technologies is a leader in the field of fiber lubricants development. For more than 70 years, Goulston has provided support to the emerging manmade fiber industry. A long time ago fiber lubricants (also known as spin finishes) were developed with only one function in mind—to facilitate spinning of the fibers and yarns. Today, these products have evolved into rather complex blends providing surface modification and functionality to a wide variety of manmade fibers and yarns. In many cases these topical treatments have to work in combination with internal polymer modifiers providing durable changes to fiber surfaces.
Recent developments in the fiber and fabric markets require unique combinations of various properties. For example, barrier fabrics used in the medical field simultaneously require alcohol repellency and the ability to withstand high water pressure in combination with electrostatic-charge dissipative properties. High-performance apparel and bedding products need durable surface treatments (to withstand multiple laundering cycles) providing a combination of advanced moisture management, tactile feel (softness) and, in many cases, antimicrobial protection. Contemporary outdoor fabrics must have high water-repellency and flame-retardant properties.
In recent years we have also developed a new generation of fully sustainable products aimed to minimize impact on the environment. Currently Goulston Technologies offer a special group of spin finishes with bio-sustainable content from 55–80 percent.Â Fiber lubricants based on bio-sustainable resources are practical for most applications.Â Through effective formulation, we were able to address the limitations of bio-sustainable materials in meeting challenging performance requirements.