One of the liveliest discussions at the recent Nonwovens for High-performance Applications conference (Prague, Czech Republic, 7–8 March 2017) centred on whether the industry’s efforts to substitute short-chain fluorocarbons for their long-chain counterparts in durable water-repellent (DWR) finishes is effectively addressing widespread concerns for the health of consumers and the impact on the environment of such treatments. One side of the argument is that the short-chain versions (so-called “carbon-six” chains) are safe to use and are becoming as effective treatments as the longer-chain (“carbon-eight”) chemicals. Others argue that carbon-six fluorocarbons are no safer or only marginally safer and will themselves need to be replaced in the longer term.
The hunt for safer alternatives to long-chain fluorocarbons for use as durable water-repellent treatments has sparked a great deal of innovation.
It is a discussion that will likely be carried on among the exhibition halls of Messe Frankfurt during the forthcoming Techtextil/Texprocess (Frankfurt, Germany, 9–12 May 2017). Among the plans of exhibitors specializing in the supply of chemicals, and coating and finishing, short-chain fluorocarbon and fluorine-free alternatives to existing DWR finishes feature prominently, and looking further ahead, research institutes (such as The Hohenstein Group) are working on completely novel alternatives.
Innovation, however, is not being driven solely by this one topic. Developments to be seen for the first time in Frankfurt will span the industry’s whole supply chain: fibres, yarns, filaments and threads; performance nonwovens; technical textiles. In addition, the significant presence of machinery builders reflects their understanding of the importance of this biennial event. While there will not be major launches of new machinery, as occurs on a large scale at ITMA every four years, there are to be plenty of examples of modifications and adaptations designed to cater for the processing and manufacture of added-value textiles.
Technical textile manufacturers cannot afford to stand still with respect to development—constant innovation is essential for them to remain competitive. In addition, as the example of DWR treatments shows, no solution to a problem should ever be considered complete.
Fortunately, as Techtextil/Texprocess demonstrates every two years, it is a challenge the industry continues to address successfully.