Exhibitors at Techtextil and Texprocess 2017 reported that the market for technical textiles continues to boom in China and Asia, while there have been record orders – especially for nonwoven technology – from the USA in the past two years.

In the European Union, however, and especially in Germany, there are worries that further environmental legislation will be harmful to all industrial manufacturing going forward – even as new digital solutions are starting to see reshoring in certain sectors.

High demand

Since mid-2016, we’ve experienced a really high demand for new nonwoven lines that appears to be totally disconnected from the general slow-down of growth reported for China’s economy,” said Tobias Schäfer, general manager at Andritz Nonwovens.

After the decision by the Chinese government to stop the single-child policy at the end of 2015, Chinese spunlace producers decided to anticipate future market demand and make new investments. New lines are now on stream to offer top-quality spunlace fabrics complying with international standards. In 2016, Chinese producers invested in the combination of TT card web forming and Jetlace Essentiel hydroentanglement units, which is already recognised as setting the standard in Western countries.”

Solid success is also reported from the US market.
Tobias Schäfer, general manager at Andritz Nonwovens.
According to INDA, the North American nonwovens association, the 2007-2009 global recession resulted in many nonwovens companies putting plans for new capacity investments on hold for a number of years and there was little growth between 2010 and 2014.

Things started to change in 2015 and in 2016 no less than 17 new nonwoven lines became operational, bringing the total nonwovens manufacturing capacity in North America to 3,596,000 tons.

This year, a further 14 new lines will come on-stream, adding 203,000 tons of additional capacity and representing further growth of 5.6% for 2017.

Made in America

A direct link can be made between this flurry of activity and the Made in America campaign, including Walmart’s massive commitment to sourcing an additional US$250 billion of products that are made, assembled or grown domestically in the years up to 2023.

Adding to this momentum, there have been parallel initiatives by sports brands such as Nike and Under Armour, along with considerable investment by the US automotive and aerospace industries in new domestic manufacturing technology.

The automotive industry in particular, is a major user of nonwoven materials, but the new lines that continue to be put in place are for a wide range of end-use applications ranging from hygiene disposables to home furnishings and filter media.

The Made in America approach that’s currently being heavily pushed by US retailers and OEMs, and to a certain extent the government, is prompting investors to build nonwoven lines within the US, whether they are US companies or from elsewhere,” says Tobias Schäfer.

 “Turkey’s Mogul is the latest example of a foreign investor in the US, to serve the local market. These investments are based on high capacity lines for which Andritz can provide adapted solutions.”
Renato Gerletti, commercial manager, in Frankfurt.
Optical quality

Italian company, Loptex, based in Montano Lucino in Italy’s Como region, is also now enjoying success in the supply of its Centra+ optical quality control system for the nonwoven market in the USA.

The Centra+ is a forefront system designed to allow the comprehensive and accurate detection and elimination of fibre contamination,” said commercial manager Renato Gerletti in Frankfurt. “We are currently doing well with the system in material flows for medical and hygiene nonwovens, and Germany remains our biggest market here, now followed by the USA, and also Brazil, Spain and Italy.”

The Centra+, he explained, employs acoustic, optical and ultraviolet technologies for the multiple detection of all contaminants on nonwoven or spinning lines.

It is allowing our customers to make significant savings in processing materials and at the same time improve the quality of their nonwoven webs and yarns,” he added.

European pressures

Meanwhile, at a special Techtextil 2017 press conference held by ICV, the German chemical fibres association, chairman Stefan Braun spoke of the challenges facing manufacturers from European energy and environmental policies.
ICV, the German chemical fibres association, chairman Stefan Braun.
The ICV represents around 20 fibre companies with a combined headcount of 12,000 people and turnover of €3 billion.

The recent plans of the European Commission in respect of the decarbonization of the European economy scare many energy-intensive industries, man-made fibres included,” he said. “Germany’s contribution to the European climate and energy framework is considerable, but it has not been accompanied by appropriate compensation measures and we have been obliged to invest much more on ecology than efficiency.

"Furthermore, the upcoming European carbon leakage list reform may lead to further exorbitant costs for many energy-intensive industrial sectors. By comparison, the same sectors in China are fully subsidized in their power expenses.”

China continues to add capacity for manmade fibres and many new projects are decided without sufficient market research, he added.

Excess capacity leads to low prices and poor profitability, encouraging dumping and leading to market distortions.

Decarbonizing the European economy would mean completely outsourcing our industry,” Braun concluded. “The vision of deserted industrial areas cannot be in the interests of anybody.”

Digital printing

The ‘Digital Textile Micro Factory’ demonstrated technology for the entire networked automated production of garments.
At the same time, new digital solutions are now being viewed as the tools for bringing some high value production back to Europe.

This potential was demonstrated within the ‘Digital Textile Micro Factory’ at the Frankfurt show, bringing together technology for the entire networked automated production of garments – incorporating CAD design, printing, cutting, assembling and labelling.

When it comes to ‘fast fashion’, micro factories offer the opportunity to put ideas into practice immediately and to try out new business models, based on specific customer requirements,” said Olaf Schmidt, vice president of textiles and textile technologies at Messe Frankfurt.

The demand for individualised products requires the entire production process to be made more flexible,” added Elgar Straub, general manager of the VDMA’s Textile Care, Fabric and Leather Technologies division. “Serial production with smaller and smaller batches – right down to batches of just one – is only possible with industrially manufactured individual products.”

Fespa clash
EFI Regianni showed a wide range of digitally printed fabrics in Frankfurt.
As far as digital printing was concerned, however, the two Frankfurt shows were inevitably affected by the decision to hold the Fespa Europe printing machinery show in Hamburg from May 8-12, with Techtextil and Texprocess running from May 9-12. This obliged some exhibitors to opt to be at one or the other, or stretch resources to be presented at both.

EFI Regianni, for example, showed a wide range of digitally printed fabrics in Frankfurt while deciding to launch its new Renoir Flexy at the Hamburg event.

This is an industrial textile printer designed to allow nearly any business to enter the industrial digital textile printing field by offering the performance of larger Reggiani printers at lower initial costs.

Customers can run the widest variety of fabrics – from knitted to woven as well as stretch materials,” said sales and marketing director Michele Riva.

The overlap with Fespa, however, did little to diminish the success of the two Frankfurt shows, which attracted a record 1,789 exhibitors and drew more than 47,500 visitors to Frankfurt over four days – up 14% on the last two events in 2015.