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.
Agrotech* - Textiles for agriculture, horticulture and fishing, including ground cover cloth, greenhouse protection cloth and fishing yarns…
Buildtech* - Textiles for building and light construction, including insulation materials, awnings and roofing textiles…
Geotech* - Geotextiles, including cloth for water, road and soil works, sealing cloth and water filter cloth…
Indutech* - Textiles for industrial applications, including conveyor belts, sealing cords for tunnel kiln cars (brick kilns), wool felt for e.g. printing presses…
Medtech* - Medical textiles, including hydrophilic gauze, support bandages, hospital textiles, nappies (babies, incontinence), therapeutic elastic stockings and surgical suits…
Mobiltech* - Textiles for vehicles, including seat belts, fabrics for airbags, interior trim for cars, fabrics for car tyres, carpet for buses, airplanes and ships…
Packtech* - Textiles for transport and packaging, including canvas/tarpaulin (bache), mail bags / linen bags / money bags, cargo and container nets…
Protech* - Textiles for protection and safety, including fire-resistant materials and waterproof fabrics…
Sporttech* - Textiles for sports applications, including artificial grass, cloth for parachutes and/or hot air balloons, fabrics for sports bags, rucksacks and sportswear…
*copyright Messe Frankfurt
It might surprise you, but textiles produced in Belgium today are primarily technological. We call it 'technical textiles'. Half of Belgium's textile production is technical textiles. Another half are interior textiles (carpet, furniture fabrics, curtain fabrics, mattress coverings, etc.), with only a small portion of textiles intended for clothing in addition.
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. As a result, the textile becomes functional, e.g. flame-retardant, waterproof, luminous and heat-insulating. It is this clever combination of fabric with chemistry that is the great driver of the development of technical textiles. And the applications are practically 'infinite'.
Technical textiles lend a helping hand to nature and public spaces, sometimes visibly but often invisibly too. Almost invisible, for example, is the textile for reinforcing roadsides, dikes, highways, locks and railways, also called geotextiles. Or filter and drainage cloth, the textiles for vertical planting on buildings (urban greenery), and agrotextiles such as the root cloth – even sunlight-reflecting cloth in fruit and vineyards, the cloth for climate control in greenhouses.
Technical textiles are the growth engine of the Belgian textile industry: for every major challenge, they provide some valuable solutions.
On the other hand, visible technical textiles include, for example, artificial turf for sports fields, or awnings. And we should not forget the textiles for medical applications, ranging from mouth masks to protective material and equipment for healthcare providers, to sterile surgeon suits in the operating room. We should certainly also include the high-performance sportswear for elite athletes. Moreover, this seeps into the wide market for leisure sportspeople's clothing.
Elsewhere, we can find technical textiles in cars, aeroplanes and (cruise) ships, for example. It is not always 'visible' textiles, such as the soundproofing cloth under vehicle bonnets, and airbags, but also the headliner, boot carpets, car seats, seat belts, etc. These are all examples of technical textiles. And let us not forget awnings either.
And last but not least: safety and protective clothing. E.g. safety
textiles that are reflective, or cut-resistant, fire-resistant or protective against e.g. chemicals. Technical textiles are to be found in the work and protective clothing of production workers, firefighters, motorcyclists, etc. Not forgetting bullet-proof vests for soldiers and the police. Other technical textiles serve, for example, as seals in industrial and household applications, such as ovens, stoves and boilers. And yes, also e.g. ropework for shipping.
Knowledge and collaboration, the driving forces
The major strength of technical textiles, then, is indeed the knowledge intensity of the products. This knowledge is obtained through research and development, initially by the companies themselves, but often in collaboration with specialist knowledge centres such as the Centexbel textile technology centre, as well as colleges and universities. Since 2019, the Technical Textiles working group at Fedustria has been active once again, in collaboration with Centexbel. The objective is to strengthen the network of companies active in technical textiles and promote knowledge exchange on new developments and innovations.
Destined for export
Around two-thirds of the technical textiles produced in Belgium are destined for export. Of course, the companies do this directly themselves, or by taking part in specialised trade fairs in accordance with the specific products they produce (medical products, transport, safety and protection, etc.). At the international level, the Techtextil biennial in Frankfurt is by far the largest of its kind. After a lengthy hiatus due to coronavirus, this trade exhibition was able to take place again in 2022, running from 21 to 24 June 2022. Fedustria organised a group booth there with 15 participating companies, with about the same number of textile companies also exhibiting there with their own booths. Fedustria's group booth had great appeal and was the place to be for many visitors.
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