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The ultimate fabric; the ultimate customer

October 1st, 2019 / By: / Editorial

A few weeks ago, many members of IFAI’s board of directors and division managers converged here in Roseville for severals days of meetings and presentations. I always enjoy these visits, as it gives me the opportunity to ask questions about when we’ll have awnings that can communicate, change color on demand, wrap themselves around intruders while calling the police, and then be made into a nourishing broth when ready to be replaced. 

The answers I receive are varied, and it’s true that some of them seem to fall into the “Who told you you could land here?” category; but in general, it’s a time when I get to indulge my (probably science-fiction inspired) theories concerning why textiles, if they can solve some of society’s problems, can’t just go ahead and solve all of them. 

One very pressing problem in Minnesota, for example, is known as a “pothole”: a crater formed in an asphalt roadway, usually overnight so it’ll be fresh for the morning rush hour, of a size and menace calculated to make some of us wonder whether the auto repair industry is somehow involved. During that recent visit, Fred Chuck, PE, vice president of business development for HUESKER Inc., made a presentation to us about his company’s product developments, some of which included geosynthetics designed to strengthen asphalt roadways and help to prevent potholes. It didn’t occur to me until afterwards, however, to wonder whether instead of or in addition to using a layer of fabric, we couldn’t also improve the asphalt itself—perhaps by grinding up old bowling shirts (seemingly the most indestructible material ever made by man) and mixing them in. 

If MnDOT and Goodwill could just get together on this … 

In the article “An equipment evolution,” we examine the increasing demands of customers upon product manufacturers, and the corresponding demands of manufacturers, in turn, on their suppliers. All along the supply chain, vertical partnerships are forming to provide the kinds of performance fabrics needed to meet (or create) market demand—like those discussed in “Power grab” on page 36 in this issue. 

And behind the demands of consumers, there’s also the increased awareness, all along that supply chain, that ecology now plays an equal role with economy (“The state of sustainability”). 

What’s really changing the textile world, however, is what could be called “intersectional partnerships”—not only in different parts of the industry but between different industries, as is happening now as developments in textiles and in electronics create standard interfaces and technologies.

Not all performance fabrics are e-textiles, as I mentioned last month. In the December issue, we’ll also focus on the expanding arena of biopolymers and biotextiles, and how they’re replacing (or combining with) the synthetics that took over from natural fabrics after WWII, to create whole new areas of growth. 

Today, the textiles.

Tomorrow, the potholes.