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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

23rd May 2019, Frankfurt

Bright prospects for reinforcements underlined at Techtextil 2019

Composite seat made from reinforced PLA by the Techtextil Innovation Award-winning BIO4self project. © Adrian Wilson

Composite seat made from reinforced PLA by the Techtextil Innovation Award-winning BIO4self project. © Adrian Wilson

With a record 1,818 exhibitors and 47,000 visitors from 116 countries descending on Frankfurt from 14-17 May, this year’s Techtextil technical textiles show, along with its sister show Texprocess, was the biggest to date.

The composites market is central to developments in this industry, as has been outlined by Hendrik van Delden of the consultancy Gherzi.

Opportunities

In a presentation at last September’s Global Fiber Conference (GFC), held in Dornbirn, Austria, van Delden outlined some of the key opportunities for technical textiles in composites, specifically within the mobility sector – aerospace, passenger car and public transportation, representing 39% of the overall composites market.

High growth is anticipated for both glass and carbon fibre-reinforced composites within the mobility sector he observed, and textile companies are now producing specifically for these markets. High performance composites can incorporate fabrics, tapes or unidirectional prepregs, as well as long fibre nonwovens and mats.

He explained that the composites processing chain from which added value can be derived by technical textile manufacturers can be broken down into four stages. For the production of discontinuous moulded carbon composites, for example, these consist of the supply of the initial fibres as rovings or yarns, their conversion into textile surfaces, including wovens, non-crimp fabrics and braids, their pre-impregnation with plastic resins (prepregs) and their further processing into constructed preforms (stacks of reinforcement layers), all before the subsequent production of the final moulded parts.

Key trends

Three key trends in the mobility sector are currently having a significant impact on the fibre and textile supply chain according to Gherzi, namely:

  • Addressing the issue of waste in order to bring down the overall cost of carbon fibre composites.
  • Above average growth for thermoplastic-based technologies for the production of glass fibre composites.
  • The revival of SMC (sheet moulding compounding) and compression moulding technologies.

Vetron robotic arm stitching unit assembling automotive components at the Texprocess 2019 show. © Adrian Wilson

Vetron robotic arm stitching unit assembling automotive components at the Texprocess 2019 show. © Adrian Wilson

A number of technologies can be employed to partially address this carbon waste issue by fabricating 3D textile structures that in shape are closer to that of the intended final composite part, including braiding, winding, tailored prepreg tape laying and tailored blanks made by embroidery. The re-use of carbon fibre waste further provides opportunities for nonwoven manufacturers.

One key product area responsible for driving the growth in thermoplastics is that of glass fibre organosheets, which are multi-layer laminates of glass fabrics (usually non-crimped fabrics) with a thermoplastic resin, typically polypropylene or polyamide. These can be cost effectively compression moulded into mass-produced parts for the mobility sector.

The production of SMC parts – in which fabrics and resins are simply mechanically pressed and oven cured – is growing again, and viewed as one of the most suitable technologies for bringing the cost of carbon fibre composites down to acceptable levels for mass production.

EU success

At Techtextil 2019 in Frankfurt, van Delden presented new Gherzi figures putting the world market for technical textiles – excluding both raw materials and converted final products – at EUR 159 billion in 2018.

Composite motorbike fairings for the Dutch Ministry of Defence made from recycled denim by DenimX were shown as part of the Techtextil 2019 City of the Future display. © Adrian Wilson

Composite motorbike fairings for the Dutch Ministry of Defence made from recycled denim by DenimX were shown as part of the Techtextil 2019 City of the Future display. © Adrian Wilson

Of this figure, technical textiles accounted for 69%, or EUR 110 billion of sales, nonwovens for 24% (EUR 38 billion) and yarns for articles such as sewing threads, medical sutures, ropes and cords etc., for 7% (EUR 11 billion).

In terms of tonnage, the total amount was 37 million tons, with 21 tons of it textiles, 14 tons nonwovens and 2 tons yarns.

EU technical textile producers profit from a strong home market with a value of EUR 27 billion (17%), followed by the USA at EUR 26 billion (16%) and China, at an estimated EUR 21 billion (14%).

The markets have continued to grow at the expected CAGR of 5%, due essentially, however, to nonwovens growth above expectations, and especially in China.

The EU exports of technical textiles constitute an undisputed success story, having increased by EUR 455 million per annum between 2014 and 2018, with a value of EUR 9.1 billion in 2014 climbing to EUR 11 billion in 2018.

All things considered, this paints a very bright picture for both technical textiles and the wider composites market.

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