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New on Technical Textiles

Key trends in coating and laminating

Conference Chair Adrian Wilson (foreground) led more than 100 delegates at the recently concluded Textile Coating and Laminating Conference in Berlin.

The importance of the coating and laminating sector to technical textiles was underlined once again during the most recent staging of the International Conference on Textile Coating and Laminating (held in Berlin, Germany, on 8–9 November 2017).

More than 100 leading figures from global businesses took part in two days of presentations, debates and informal meetings covering a range of topics affecting the industry, now and in the near future. During these exchanges several key themes and trends emerged:

  • the growing importance of digital production technologies (so-called “Industry 4.0”);
  • the large number of opportunities and new markets being realized by the emergence of novel technologies and materials;
  • the opportunities as well as constraints resulting from regulations and consumer demands related to the environment.

In discussions concerning Industry 4.0, the growing demand from consumers for individual/personalized products was a frequent subject, and contributors and delegates often debated how to achieve this using existing and emerging production machinery and materials without driving up costs, as well as how to adapt their business strategies in response to these demands. The impact of changes to the global information technology (IT) infrastructure, such as the development of shared services via the Internet (so-called “cloud computing”), and three-dimensional (3D) printing processes were also considered.

Yvonne Heinen-Foudeh from Gerber Technology (centre) led the first of five discussion panels at the event, each of which sparked lively debates on a range of contemporary topics for the industry.

The wealth of emerging technologies talked about included: printing and coating methods for making electronic textiles and nonwovens; plasma technologies; laser technologies; spray coating; dry powder impregnation; the applications for ultrasound and acoustic energy; haptic (3D) coatings. Although frequently dealing with state-of-the-art developments in these sectors, the talks were all highly practical and driven by the need to solve commercial problems for the industry and/or open the way to new applications and markets.

Many developments, for instance, focused on ways to reduce manufacturing’s impact on the environment (and industry’s costs) by reducing consumption of energy, chemicals, (often expensive) raw materials and water; ominously, several attendees commented that the issue of water shortages, together with the corresponding need to reduce significantly industry’s use of this vital resource, is a far more imminent concern than is widely recognized. More optimistically, the conference provided evidence that the industry is already responding: Gary Selwyn President of Green Theme Technologies, for instance, presented details of a jacket (Phoenix), which the brand Marmot Mountain Works will sell from early 2018 while promoting it as the first-ever garment to be made with water-free processing.

Another frequent topic was that of the excessive influence of the major apparel brands (particularly those in the sports and leisure sector) on the industry’s response to environmental pressures. Some commentators expressed the view that brands have dictated changes, often in response to pressure from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), without the necessary knowledge. As a result, changes had been made that have had an unintended detrimental effect on the environment when the situation is viewed holistically. This effect was dubbed “regrettable substitutions” by bluesign technologies’ Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jill Dumain, during her keynote at the start of the second day; however, she also said that the current trend is towards a greater involvement from those further along the supply chain, and therefore more informed choices were being made.

Nevertheless, a frequently repeated theme of the debates showed that despite this welcome trend such decisions will not be straightforward. Many delegates raised the topic of the need or otherwise for fluorocarbon finishes and a casual observer could have been forgiven for concluding that there were more opinions in the conference hall than there were delegates. Broadly, though, it was accepted that:

Daikin Chemical Europe's Business Manager Surface Modification Fikri Alemdaroglu led many of the discussions concerning the use of fluorocarbons.

Finally, and emphasizing the practical nature of this event, Deborah Maxwell of intellectual property specialist Potter Clarkson spoke about ways to protect developments and to exploit such protection once it was in place. This topic provoked great interest during the Berlin event and has already been the subject of an article (Protecting cutting-edge ideas and maximizing their benefits) posted on this site. Two more articles from Deborah will follow, and more detailed analyses of the other important discussions noted above will appear in a series of articles on this site over the coming months, as well as in a special supplement of the magazine Technical Textiles International to be published early next year. The International Conference on Textile Coating and Laminating will return in about eighteen months and full details will appear on this site as soon as they are known.

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