Technical textiles

Defining 'Technical textiles' is not easy. For this 'third pillar' of the textile industry, alongside fashion textiles and interior textiles, is not actually a clearly demarcated product group. In fact, it is a collection of textile products that solve a whole range of societal and industrial challenges.

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Agrotech* - Textiles for agriculture, horticulture and fishing, including ground cover cloth, protective cloth for greenhouses, fishing yarns…

Buildtech* - Textiles for building and lightweight structures, including insulation materials, blinds, roofing textile, tents…

Geotech* - Geotextiles, including cloth for dam construction, road and ground construction, sealing cloth, water filter cloth…

Indutech* - Textiles for the industrial application area, including conveyor bands, sealing cords for tunnel furnace bogies (brickworks), woollen felt for e.g. printing presses…

Medtech* - Medical textiles, including hydrophilic gauzes, bandages, hospital linen, napkins (babies, incontinents), therapeutic elastic stockings, surgeon suits, protective clothing for nurses…

Mobiltech* - Textiles for vehicles, including seat belts, fabrics for airbags, inner lining for cars, fabrics for tyres, carpet for buses, aircrafts and ships…

Packtech* - Textiles for transport and packaging, including canvases/tarpaulins, postbags/bags for linen/cash-bags, load and container nets…

Protech* - Textiles for safety and protection, including fireproof materials, waterproof fabrics, NBC protective textiles…

Sporttech* - Textiles for the sport application area, including artificial turf, fabric for parachutes and/or aeronautical balloons, fabric for sports bags, rucksacks…

*copyright Messe Frankfurt

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Textiles are all too often associated only with clothing and interior textiles. But few people are aware that today in Belgium, "technical textiles" is the largest group, larger than the two other segments, namely interior textiles and clothing textiles.

As the name suggests, it is in fact the intrinsically technical properties that define the technical textile product and give it added value. This is often by combining chemistry with textiles. This makes the textile functional, e.g. flame-retardant, waterproof, luminous, heat-insulating, etc.

Technical textiles lend a helping hand to nature and public spaces, sometimes visibly but often invisibly. For example, the textiles for reinforcing roadsides, dikes, motorways, locks and railways are practically invisible, as are the fibres for reinforcing concrete, filter and drainage cloth, cloth for climate control in greenhouses, the textiles for vertical planting on buildings (urban greenery), and the root cloth - even sunlight-reflecting cloth in fruit and vineyards. On the other hand, visible technical textiles include, for example, artificial turf for sports fields, or awnings.

Technical textiles are everywhere. They are often a solution to major challenges such as the environment, climate and security.

The past two years have seen a major focus on medical textiles, ranging from mouth masks to protective material and equipment for healthcare providers, to sterile surgeon suits in the operating room. These are also all technical textiles, as are textiles for personal hygiene (women's hygiene, wipes to remove makeup, ear sticks, etc.).

Elsewhere, we find technical textiles in cars, aeroplanes and (cruise) ships, for example. It is not always "visible" textiles, such as, for example, the soundproofing cloth under vehicle bonnets, and airbags, but also the headliner, boot carpets, car seats, seat belts... these are all examples of technical textiles.

Safety textiles that are reflective, tear-resistant, fireproof or bulletproof are found in the work and protective clothing of production workers, firefighters, motorcyclists, etc. Not forgetting bulletproof vests for soldiers and the police. Other less visible protective textiles serve, for example, as seals in industrial and household applications, such as ovens, stoves, and boilers.

Our everyday clothing also owes a lot to technical textiles: elastics, stretch and fasteners, as well as specific properties, such as being waterproof, windproof, breathability, wear comfort, etc. For both leisurewear and high performance sportswear for elite athletes.

We also find a wide range of technical textiles in the logistics and packaging world, ranging from tarpaulins for truck transport - often even equipped with anti-theft systems -, industrial packaging to protect the transport of parts, mailbags, ropes for ships, to cloth sheets for building site scaffolding. But also technical textiles for bags, rucksacks and accessories.

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Knowledge and collaboration, the driving forces

The major strength of technical textiles is the knowledge intensity of the products. This knowledge is obtained through research and development, initially by the companies themselves, but often in collaboration with knowledge centres such as the Centexbel textile technology centre, as well as colleges and universities. Since 2019, the Technical Textiles working group has been active once again, in cooperation with Centexbel. The objective is to strengthen the network of companies active in technical textiles and promote knowledge exchange on new innovations.

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Destined for export

Around two-thirds of the technical textiles produced in Belgium are destined for export. To this end, companies can take part in specialised trade fairs according to the specific products they produce (medical products, transportation, safety and protection, etc.). At the international level, the Techtextil biennial in Frankfurt is by far the largest of its kind. Fedustria organises a group stand there every year.

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Key figures
Number of companies 79
Number of employees 7.147
Turnover (in million EUR) 2.244
Exported quota 70 %
Activity evolution in 2021 +14 %
Share in the total added value of the Belgian textile sector 43 %

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Daphne Renier 2

Daphne Renier

Product Manager Textiles