|Weaving and printing advances|
|Wednesday, 02 May 2012 11:01|
Richard Irwin of Railux (RA Irwin) was impressed by the developments in fabric technology in evidence at the recent ITMA show.
The last two decades have seen a progression in fabric technology that would have seen Richard Arkwright spinning in his grave.
Bullet-proof, carbon-fibre and puncture-resistant textiles are incredibly sophisticated uses of what are essentially woven fabrics. Yarns that are inherently flame-retardant, yarns that mimic organic materials and coatings that reflect light and heat are developments in our industry that have added value for our customers.
The medical profession and space exploration can claim credit for driving many emerging technical textile trends. Products that combine electronics with textiles are set to add incredible value to healthcare provision, while in the space industry NASA has been responsible for fabrics that keep astronauts comfortable and cool. This sort of technology starts out as highly technical and limited in commercial appeal, but often ends up as a product such as memory foam which is now a major product in the bedding industry.
As exciting as these fields can be, they do not always directly relate to our window coverings industry. What we are seeing is an emphasis on energy efficiency and heat control. One growth market has been for reflective coatings with heat and light control properties. Screen fabrics also offer technical features such as being inherently FR, control of heat and control of light down to a percentage point!
These shifts in our industry are a reflection of wider trends throughout fabric technology. At the recent ITMA textile machinery show held in Barcelona, energy efficiency was a big theme. This is unsurprising given rising energy costs and the continued trend towards all things green. In weaving technology, one of the main manufacturers of looms showcased a new high speed machine. However, of more practical interest was a small part that can be retro-fitted to improve air flow and reduce energy use by 20%. Considering the large energy consumption of an air jet loom, this is a considerable saving. It is also an example of how machine makers now have to think about the incremental process improvements that can deliver significant savings. In previous years the focus was always on the show-stopping new machine, such as the high speed loom mentioned above. Now with companies reining back capital expenditure and seeking cost savings, devices like this are what machine users are crying out for.
Within the field of fabric development, an area that is moving faster than most is printing. Taking its lead from graphic printing, there has been a big move from flat and rotary screen processes towards digital. A number of manufacturers had state-of-the-art digital printers on display at the ITMA show, whilst rotary screen printing machines were noticeable by their absence. The big issue with digital printers has been achieving commercially viable speeds. Up until now they have been used mostly for sample work, but it seems this is no longer the case with the advances seen in Barcelona. It may be a few years yet before digital machines are as quick as rotary machines. However, the technology’s flexibility, accuracy and design-led focus outweigh the drawbacks. Even in sustainability, digital printing is a more desirable technology as ink is supplied only when and where it is needed. This is known as ‘drop-on-demand’. The point being that ink is not wasted as it is only applied on the base fabric exactly on the spot where it is meant to be.
It seems that greater focus on design and sustainability are the issues driving fabric development today and for the foreseeable future.