The recent 'Bra Wars' rows over Chinese textile quotas in both the US and Europe once again highlighted the plight of textile manufacturers around the world. This is not a problem limited to European and North American manufacturers, the textile industry in parts of Africa and South America is also in danger of being wiped out by cheap imports.
No longer able to compete on price alone for basic textile goods, manufacturers are desperately searching for ways to add value and move upmarket. Of course nanotechnologies provide only a part of the solution. Many producers, as in Italy, are competing well by producing very high quality fabrics for the big fashion houses without a nanotechnologist in sight. Others are looking at adding more functionality to their textiles by making them stain and odour resistant and waterproof, but this is just the tip of a rather large iceberg.
A major area of opportunity will be the bottom up engineering of fibres – polymer chemists have been doing this to some degree for fifty years - but imagine adding an order of magnitude more precision. We are already seeing the first crude steps in integrating electronics and sensors with textiles, but most of these efforts involve integrating a sensor or a display with a material. The real payback will come when the sensor or the display is the fibre, which is why companies from Infineon to Bayer are pumping money into this area.
That may not help the more traditional producers, may of whom are family run firms that do not have the resources to plough millions of dollars into nanotech R&D. For these companies, off the shelf products that are compatible with current production technologies are of major importance, hence the success of licensable add on technologies such as those from NanoTex and U-Right.
The textile industry is one of the worlds oldest, and also one of the first to adopt nanotechnologies in a major way. Whether the promised innovations will come in time to save much of the worlds family run traditional textile companies remains to be seen, although the opportunities for large chemical industry players is more obvious.
Cientifica and the European NanoBusiness Association are combining to address this issue on both sides of the world, with AsiaFutureTex in Singapore looking at the Asian perspective, and EuroFutureTex in Padua, Italy, addressing the European dimension. Given the impressive R&D effort in Asia. It will be interesting to compare the two (almost) back-to-back events.Posted by Cientifica at September 7, 2005 10:01 AM | TrackBack