1987 Fabrics Of The Future
By Robert H. Huntoon
1987: Fabrics Of The FutureElsewhere in this issue, ATIs continuing love affair with the rich and varied history of textiles has been well documented.But what about the future What new fabrics, trends in raw materials, machinery, business structure and textile end uses will we be reporting on 10 or 20 years from nowCapital Intensive MillsOur first prediction is that the textile business will survive and even prosper. Except for a few craft products, which may include hand weaving and hand screen printing, textile plants of all sizes will be highly capital intensive.We see an industry developing which will have both large, highly efficient commodity plants and many relatively small plants with highly unique products aimed at specific markets.The large plants will have extremely close ties to their major customers through shared computer inventory programs. They will have enough machinery capacity to turn out large volumes in short times. The financial burden of downtime will be shared with their major customers.Decreasing Labor ContentAmerican fiber will continue to be competitive with any in the world. Labor content in fabric making and finishing will steadily decrease and the impact of imports on these large plants will decline steadily during the 90s and into the next century.The specialty plants will concentrate on developing always newer and better products by following closely or sometimes leading the product requirements in their customers industry.Downstream IntegrationThe very large companies will have both kinds of plants. They will constantly seek by acquisition, joint venture and codevelopment projects to get further downstream in the distribution chain taking goods from the large plants, but they will avoid forward integration in the industries served by the specialty plants.Small boutique conglomerates may assemble a cadre of specialty plants serving various high-tech industries and obtain a competitive advantage by investing heavily in broad market research and product development.Some middle sized companies will own one or two of the high volume plants and, when managed carefully, will earn excellent returns on their investments.Two Counter TrendsWeaving, knitting and nonwoven technologies will see two counter trends. For the volume applications there will be a steady convergence of fabric appearance and performance. Warp knitting and spunbond nonwovens will experience remarkable product development and growth as this trend works its self out.For the specialty applications, the fabrication techniques and product performance will become increasingly unique and distinct. Three dimensional weaving, flat bed knitting with presser foot capabilities, specialty braiding and many other techniques will be developed commercially.Both volume and specialty plants will be greatly influenced by many new finishing and surface modifying operations and probably will eventually integrate these operations into their systems.Evolution And RevolutionDr. Albin Turbak, director and professor in the School of Textile Engineering at Georgia Tech, feels that the textile industry can grow almost as rapidly as it wants to if it will concentrate on filling the needs of its potential customers.Growth can come through evolutionary or revolutionary changes. Dr. Turbak characterizies evolutionary changes as doing the same thing, only better, and he likes what he sees happening as mills upgrade all departments.Revolutionary changes are those that will probably come from outside the textile industry. This might be the application of technology, raw materials, or a new need for a textile product.A revolutionary change in the making, says Dr. Turbak, may be the accelerating growth of fiber reinforced plastics, or more fundamentally the technology dealing with the surface interaction between textile and matrix or coating.If the textile industry is to capitalize on these revolutionary changes, we will require a different way of discovering what our products can do and of presenting them to nontraditional customers.NTI To Ensure The FutureNow is the time to develop a National Textile Institute that would insure that the US industry has the right priorities and research capabilities to develop the products and processes that will help us capitalize on both the evolutionary and revolutionary possibilities of our industry.In our conception, NTI should focus on things that are over the horizon and which would not normally be the subject for current R and D efforts by even the most progressive companies.NTI should have both a technology section and a market section since these are the two forces that alternately drive new developments. But to achieve revolutionary changes, we think the major emphasis should be on current and future requirements of potential customer industries.A Seven-Step ProgramWe see the following steps that should be taken after NTI is organized:1. Choose target industries from among the largest, fastest growing, most rapidly changing and/or those of greatest importance to the economic life of the country.2. Create industry teams to define development objectives.3. Advertise, award, and supervise R and D projects by academic or other institutions toward these objectives.4. Plan, finance, and supervise demonstration projects.5. Publish appropriate technical and market reports.6. Administer patent/licensing activities.7. Develop royalty and license arrangements to permit future funding of NTI projects.Industry Funds For The NTIThe initial funding of NTI during the organizational period would probably have to come from grants from major textile, machinery, and raw material companies. After the institute is created, the Federal government through the National Science Foundation or Commerce Department grants could be called upon for support for several years. Also, the major textile states would probably recognize the potential value to them of the NTI.The US textile industry is a great resource. It will survive and prosper based on its own hard work and creativity, but it could be even stronger by consciously striving to build its own technology and market scope on a national basis.