The Secret Life Of Industrial Textiles

A view into the vast field of manufacturing and application of industrial textilesThe
technical and technological application of textiles has become a rapidly growing field, especially
over the past two decades. For example, even though some textile seat belts for automotive
applications were installed before the 1960s, nobody imagined then how large a role textiles would
play in passenger safety. The demand for seat belts, as well as supplemental restraint systems such
as air bags, is huge. And while this is only the result of about two decades, we now have a better
feeling for how the market for such technical safety textiles will grow.

There are thousands of applications of textiles today for industrial and consumer usage.
Additionally, many potential uses have not been explored because end users arent aware that textile
fabrics and composites can effectively replace many traditional materials. Industrial textiles are
not in the spotlight like flashy brand-name apparel textiles and live almost a secret life, often
hidden from the eye of the end user. And the manufacturers of high-technology industrial textiles
are (understandably) very secretive about their manufacturing processes and the design of their
fabrics. The market for industrial fabrics and engineered textiles is growing constantly and
becoming increasingly significant. This leads to technical developments and innovations of advanced
textiles for new tasks. A growing awareness can be observed of environmental demands, e.g., methods
of filtration, or of the substitution of textiles for conventional materials. A great effort is
geared toward the development of cheaper, easy-to-install and lightweight textile components (in
the automotive industry, for example) based on textiles.Dream It, And It Will Be TextilesThe
following list of applications is based on a summary of fields that was compiled over the years by
Sulzer Textil Ltd., Switzerland. The company has been in the field of woven industrial applications
for many decades and set many of the original benchmarks for this sector with the introduction of
the Sulzer Projectile weaving machine. In geotextiles, woven industrial fabrics are selected for
their stability and strength, while nonwovens are often selected because of their cushioning,
damping and liquid filtration properties. Each individual manufacturing technology, in combination
with specific fibers, has certain advantages in a particular field. It seems that the nonwovens
technology has an even more impressive growth rate over the past years when compared to all other
industrial textile manufacturing technologies. Unlike consumer-oriented textile producers, the
industrial textile manufacturers face challenges presented by fibers that are extreme in nature and
chemical origins. Also, physical and mechanical properties of fibers and yarns are often very
different from those used in typical consumer textiles. The distinct design of fabrics for
industrial applications often requires special devices and setups on the production machinery.
Textile manufacturers are understandably very secretive about machine settings and installations.
Many of the nonwovens installations show a specific custom layout, and weavers have to purchase
expensive, wide, reinforced or specially equipped weaving machinery to be able to produce the
desired industrial fabrics. However, it seems to pay back when one compares the profit margins of
the industrial fabric segment with those of the rest of the textile industry.Industrial TextilesAs
already mentioned, woven textile products, nonwovens and knitted textiles share each segment of
industrial textiles, while the actual percentage assigned to each individual manufacturing
technology may vary from application to application. The technical specification profile,
cost-effectiveness and practical performance determine which manufacturing technology receives the
lions share. The following list provides a general overview of all major fields in which textiles
play a significant role.

  • Protection and safety-related textiles
  • Public services
  • Medical and healthcare applications
  • Agriculture, horticulture and fisheries
  • Buildings and light structures
  • Transportation
  • Packing, transporting and shipping
  • Filters and other industrial applications
  • Miscellaneous applications of textiles
  • Geotextiles

Following are some selected sub-categories of industrial textiles.Protection, Safety

These are mainly textiles that have a role in protecting the environment and humans from
leaks, spills, falling debris, fire, heat radiation and resulting accidents.

  • Protective tarpaulins and netting (e.g., for scaffolding)
  • Extinguishing blankets
  • Safety nets
  • Fire-resistant fabrics
  • Fluorescent fabrics
  • Insulating fabrics
  • Reflecting fabrics
  • Gas-proof fabrics
  • Water-repellent fabrics
  • Waterproof fabrics
  • Microporous fabrics
  • Oil-repellent fabrics
  • Acid-resistant fabrics
  • Fly screens
  • Mosquito netting

Public ServicesThese textiles are used by the military, fire fighters, police and similar
institutions to camouflage, shelter and protect their forces.

  • Camouflage netting
  • Camouflage fabrics
  • Army tents
  • Fabrics for protection against projectiles and shrapnel
  • Fabrics for peace-keeping and battlefield applications
  • Fabrics for uniforms
  • Nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protective fabrics
  • Fire-fighting suits and fabrics
  • Parachute fabrics
  • Packing materials for defense applications (e.g., sandbags)

Medical, HealthcareThis is an ever-growing sector, especially for nonwoven applications,
because many textiles in this field are either one way or do not need to withstand high stress
levels and long-term cleaning cycles.

  • Barrier fabrics for the operating theatre
  • Fabrics for medical courtesy
  • Fabrics for casts
  • Orthopedic fabrics
  • Stabile bandages
  • Elastic bandages
  • Cotton gauze bandages
  • Fabrics as mattress and pillow protectors
  • Diapers (babies, incontinence)
  • Sanitary napkins
  • Medical sutures

Agriculture, Horticulture, FisheriesThis sector is mainly dominated by knitted and woven
fabrics. In agricultural applications, very wide fabrics and vast square yardage especially find
their applications.

  • Shade and energy-saving fabrics for greenhouses
  • Ground cover fabrics
  • Tie-ribbon and tape for fruit crops and similar applications
  • Bags and nets for storage
  • Fabric for root ball packing
  • Netting for enclosures (e.g., grazing)
  • Protective fabrics and nets
  • Twine and cordage for enclosures
  • Textile products for bagging and wrapping purposes
  • Draw cloth for mushroom cltivation and rabbit breeding

Buildings, Light StructuresThis is a vast field of applications that often challenges the
highest standards of color fastness, UV resistance, strength and durability.

  • Insulating and draining fabrics for buildings
  • Roofing textiles
  • Indoor sun screens
  • Outdoor sun screens
  • Awnings
  • Shading fabrics
  • Draught strip for doors and windows
  • Reinforcing fabrics for plaster
  • Tent fabrics and camper/trailer extensions
  • Fabrics for marquees
  • Fabrics for light-permeable structures

TransportationThere are thousands of individual applications when considering all forms of
transportation, such as motorcycle, car, bus, train, trolley, aircraft and ship. Besides the
comfort textiles (covers, decoration) for personal and industrial applications, there are many
technical textile applications hidden from the eye because of surrounding rubber or plastics.

  • Passenger compartment linings
  • Car trunk lining materials
  • Mats
  • Coated textiles (dashboard, door panels, etc.)
  • Upholstery fabrics for car, bus, train, trolley, aircraft and ship seats
  • Fabrics for decorative and sound-proofing applications in trains, trolleys, aircraft and
  • Aftermarket seat covers
  • Seat belts
  • Air bag fabrics
  • Tire cord fabrics
  • Structural support fabrics for fan belts, timing belts and hoses
  • Noise and heat damping/insulating materials

Packing, Transporting, ShippingThere are a host of applications in this arena. Applications
range from wrapping a piece of jewelry to wrapping an army tank. Following is a sampling of the
various applications.

  • Cargo and container nets
  • Mail bags
  • Money bags
  • Large textile bags
  • Fabric for conveyor belting (coated and uncoated)
  • Polyolefin fabrics for packing
  • Fabrics for shopping bags, shoulder bags, backpacks, etc.
  • Suitcase fabrics (outer shell and lining fabrics)
  • Textile wrappings for car tires
  • Industrial packing (bags in polypropylene, jute, etc.)
  • Canvas and tarpaulin fabrics for shipping protection
  • Container fabrics for silos (e.g., for water)
  • Helicopter nets

Filters, Other Industrial Applications

An amazing technological area is the world of textile filters. Some high-tech filters are
used for blood filtration in the medical field. Workshop materials as well as polishing and sanding
tools often contain a textile core. Again, the array of potential applications is seemingly
endless. A partial listing follows.

  • Filter fabrics from extremely fine mesh to coarse mesh
  • Wet-filtration applications
  • Dry-filtration applications
  • Open-weave fabrics
  • Tubular fabrics
  • Felt fabrics
  • Fabrics for polishing discs, cutting discs, abrasives
  • Belts, etc.
  • Technical textiles for electronic applications
  • Technical textiles for heavy engineering
  • Technical textiles for papermaking, printers, laundries and the cement industry
  • Industrial pulley drive belts

Miscellaneous ApplicationsAgain, touching just the tip of the iceberg, the following listing
contains only a few textile applications that play important roles in their specific fields of

  • Woven primary carpet backing
  • Secondary carpet backing
  • Artists canvas
  • Cinema screens
  • Canvas for film sets and theatre scenery
  • Umbrella fabrics
  • Fabric for parasols, deck chairs and windbreakers
  • Textiles for specific sports applications (e.g., judo mats, outdoor mattress covers, etc.)
  • Fabric for sports shoes and slippers
  • Base fabrics for coating
  • Base fabrics for flexible lamination
  • Fabrics for shower curtains

GeotextilesThis is a vast and rapidly growing field of applications. It is estimated that only
about 20 percent of all possible applications for textile products have been developed. It is
usually the end user who cannot imagine a textile product that could lead to significant
improvements and savings. However, for geotextile applications, it is often the textile
manufacturers drive to research and educate their customers that leads to new textile products.
Companies like Synthetic Industries, Chattanooga, Tenn., for example, offer a broad range of
geotextiles for civil and environmental engineering, as well as fabrics for erosion control and
storm water management. The company offers high-strength woven geotextiles for soil stabilization,
reinforcement and containment; and nonwoven geotextiles for drainage, separation, cushioning and
pavement overlay. Its geotextiles and erosion-control products are distributed in more than 50
countries. Following are more applications in geotextiles.

  • Textiles for engineering water flow and road drainage
  • Roadway separation and railroad stabilization
  • Textile product reinforcement of earth, slopes and hills
  • Erosion-control blankets
  • Turf-reinforcement mats
  • Fabrics for landfill rehabilitation
  • Surface fabrics for sport grounds
  • Protective fabrics for pond foils
  • Engineered water-filtrationfabrics

August 2000