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Textile News
Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor

The Rupp Report: Lifetime Award For Technology Pioneer

By Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor

Yesterday, a very special and unique event happened in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany. Wilhelm Christ, the inventor of the Airflow® technology, and for many years research director at Germany-based Then Maschinen GmbH, received a medal from the State of Baden-Wurttemberg for his merits regarding economy and technology for the state.

The engineer started his new invention in the late 1970s when the dyeing of a kilogram (kg) of fabric required about 150 liters of water. This challenged Christ, head of the Then research department, to question how the enormous water and energy demand in fabric dyeing could be lowered. In those days, the traditional machinery used water to carry dyes and also to drive the fabric, which resulted in the very high water consumption.

In 1979, Christ began to develop the Airflow technology with Germany-based Hoechst AG. The idea was to replace the fabric transport medium, using steam instead of water, whereby the steam-heated dye liquor was injected into an air-jet nozzle. The next challenge was to efficiently distribute the small amounts of dye liquor and auxiliaries onto the fabric.

After this revolutionary idea was realized on a piece of paper, things accelerated rapidly. In 1981, the basic Airflow patent was registered to Christ, Dr. Hans Ulrich von der Eltz and Albert Reuther. The European patent followed in 1982. At the same time, the application of the process started in many countries worldwide.

One year later in Milan, the first Airflow machine was shown at ITMA ‘83. This machine received skeptical reactions from the so-called world experts. However, the first 10-kg load-size prototype machine was installed at Hoechst’s application laboratory. Subsequently, Then introduced the Airflow technology commercially and started its successful journey.

A great honor was awarded to Christ on Sept. 16, 1996, when he received the Henry E. Millson Award for Invention from Frederick K. Jones, president of the American Association of Textile Chemists & Colorists.

The rest is history. In today’s world of environmental consciousness, the Airflow technology is more than a technical advantage. It saves a lot of water, energy and dyestuff — and last, but not least, labor costs.

Ernst Pfister, minister of Economic Affairs of the State of Baden-Wurttemberg, recognized in his laudation the achievements of a person, who, at the age of 83, is still full of energy and ideas. And still today, Christ is working as a research associate at Then.

Bill Fong, executive director of Then’s parent company, Fong’s Group, and managing director of Then, said in his speech that today, to maintain a leading position, one must provide innovative products and solutions to its customers. And, as a matter of fact, all companies are faced with a great demand from their customers for more environmentally friendly solutions for the industry.

So, that’s why today, it is not just about being a so-called “socially or environmentally conscious company, but because of the ever-rising costs of various natural resources and commodities from energy to base metals and water, being an environmentally conscious company also means being a profitable company.

And, with a smile to Christ, Fong said: “Your invention of the Airflow technology was clearly before its time, as it is only now, more than two decades later, that the textile industry worldwide truly appreciates the benefits brought by the Airflow technology in terms of the important savings in energy, water and chemical consumption. This is to your own, personal merit.”

February 26, 2008