The Rupp Report: Technical Textiles Still Lead The Way

For the Western textile industry in general, and for the European textile industry in particular, technical textiles were and still are the main anchor of survival over the past 25 years. Growth rates continue to rise, especially for nonwovens.
One encounters technical textiles at every turn in daily life. Knowledgeable people only have to look around to see technical textiles everywhere — used for truck tarpaulins or protective apparel of all kinds, for example. Today, there virtually are no areas where technical textiles cannot be used in any form.
One can almost describe it as a platitude: The Western textile industry only survived thanks to technical textiles and cutting-edge nonwovens. However, there are a few important things to consider in order to succeed in this very competitive sector. Successful trade shows such as Techtextil in Frankfurt and in the United States, show that the field of textiles for industrial applications continues to grow.
Increasing Turnover
Everyone talks about increasing sales for technical textiles, but few can provide substantial and consistent facts and figures. Today, it still is very difficult to obtain reliable consumption figures because technical textiles are usually sold as a finished product. Technical textiles are not classified in the same way as the traditional textile and apparel industry, where the fiber and yarn consumption can be tracked.
Zurich-based Gherzi Textile Organisation is a global company that conducts all kinds of extensive studies as part of its consulting activities. As a courtesy, Gherzi provided to the Rupp Report valuable data that clearly shows how much technical textiles climbed up the stairway of sales and turnover.
Apparel Continues To Drop
Table 1 targets Germany as an example, and clearly shows clearly how fiber consumption has shifted from the traditional textile and apparel industry towards technical textiles since the 1990s.
Table 1: Fiber Consumption Germany (kilotons)

Sector 1990 1995 2005 2010 2012 2015*
Apparel 386 250 184 164 159 146
Home Textiles 331 303 252 206 202 188
Technical Textiles & Nonwovens 241 267 357 446 378 400
Total 958 820 793 816 739 734

Source: Gherzi Textil Organisation
* estimate

During the 1990s, a solid 25 percent of all fibers were used in technical textiles; today the number is already more than 55 percent. Gherzi predicts that after an exceptional year in 2010 followed by the subsequent sales collapse, the growth of this sector again will level off at 2 to 3 percent per year. Likewise, it is clear to see that even fabrics for home textiles have overtaken apparel fabrics.
As shown in Table 2, it is equally clear that fiber processing is shifting more towards technical textiles. During the period from 1990-2012, the ratio of man-made fibers increased from 68 percent to 91 percent.
Table 2: Fiber Consumption Germany (kilotons)

Sector 1990 1995 2001 2005 2010 2012
Cotton 305 220 180 94 66 69
Man-made Fibers 653 600 605 699 750 670
Total 958 820 785 793 816 739

 Source: Gherzi Textil Organisation
Very interesting in this context, is the market for nonwovens. This sector is undoubtedly the fastest growing technology for industrial applications, and the numbers are staggering.
Table 3: Growth Rates For Nonwovens In Industrial Applications

Year CAGR* Million tons US$ billion Billion sqm
1997 +7.7% 2.7 11 61
2011 +7.8% 7.6 26 205
2016** 11.1 38 305

Source: Gherzi Textil Organisation
* CAGR: Compound annual growth rate/Production
** Estimate

Of particular importance for the machinery industry is the table below, which shows how the respective raw materials and the individual web forming and bonding technologies are applied.
Table 4: Applied Raw Material And Web Forming And Bonding Technologies

Staple fibers Drylaid (airlaid/card) Chemical
(Adhesion bonding)
Chips/flakes Spunmelt
Thermal (cohesion bonding)
Air-through drying
Drum and blanket (little)
Sonic bonding (little)
Short fibers Wetlaid Mechanical
Hydro-entanglement (spunlaced)
Chips/flakes Others Flashspun
Electrostatic and force spinning

Gherzi sees five main areas as further growth drivers for the application of nonwovens:

  • The global growth of the population and its demands for hygiene, medical applications, consumer goods, etc.
  • The industrialization of emerging markets with more automobiles, geotextiles, protective apparel, etc.
  • The further industrialization of the agriculture with covers for seed, mulch mats, drainage, shading, etc.
  • The displacement of fabrics in the areas of filtration, protective apparel, roofing membranes, geotextiles, etc.
  • A growing environmental awareness, which drives more products for filtration, oil absorbents, landfill-backings, etc. 

Confidence And Quality
Technical textiles appear to have no limits. Yet, a producer who doesn’t want to work with upstream and downstream stages would be forced to operate the whole production chain. However, in most cases, this is not possible, especially in the supply of fibers and yarns. What is the alternative? The producer needs reliable partners or suppliers who provide exactly the raw material to produce the requested high-tech products. For example, to produce fire resistant protective apparel, it takes a whole lot of specialists, including:

  • Fiber and yarn producers;
  • Weavers;
  • Finishers;
  • Apparel manufacturers; and
  • Retailers. 

It’s always the same old story: one just needs to talk to the one next to him.
October 14, 2014