Technical Textiles: Weaving a new landscape
• A sub-set of the textile sector, technical textiles have started gaining traction in India recently owing to the evolving functionality of these textile products. They are segmented as per their application into 12 segments, depending on their application.
• As per the NITI Aayog, the technical textiles global market is expected to grow from US$ 177 billion in 2018 to US$ 220 billion by 2022. The share of India in the world technical textiles market is merely 4-5%.
• Factors like lack of specialty fabrics & the technology required to produce them in India need to be addressed to make them internationally competitive.
• Key Indian players also need to invest in innovation and generate high-value products to position India as global hub for technical textile and to compete with countries like China that are ahead in terms of scale and technology.
A sub-set of the textile sector, technical textiles have started gaining traction in India recently owing to the evolving functionality of these textile products. These non-aesthetic (but highly versatile) textiles are manufactured using natural as well as man-made fibres such as Nomex, Kevlar, Spandex, Twaron, etc.
They are segmented as per their application into 12 segments: Agrotech (shade nets, crop covers, fishing nets, etc.); Buildtech (Scaffolding nets, awnings, canopies, wall coverings, etc.); Clothtech (Coated laces, interlinings, zip fasteners, labels, etc.); Geotech (Geo-grids, gabions, geo-bags, etc.); Hometech (Fibre fill, blinds fabrics, mosquito nets, furniture fabrics, etc.); Indutech (Conveyor belts, bolting cloth, coated abrasives, composites, etc); Meditech (Diapers, wipes, surgical sutures, hernia mesh, artificial ligaments, etc.); Mobiltech (Tyre cord, seat belt webbing, airbag, insulation felts, seat covers, etc.); Oekotech (Geo-membranes, geo-synthetic clay liners, etc.); Packtech (Leno bags, soft luggage, jute hessian and sacks, shopping bags, etc.); Protech (Bullet proof jackets, fire retardant apparel, chemical protective clothing, etc.); and Sportech (Sport composites, artificial turfs, parachute fabrics, sleeping bags, etc.).
Source: Technical textiles: Growth engine of Indian textiles sector Report by KPMG (2019)
Properties like higher tenacity, excellent insulation and improved thermal resistance make these textiles increasingly suitable for being used not just in the country but also in international markets. As per the NITI Aayog, the technical textiles global market is expected to grow from US$ 177 billion in 2018 to US$ 220 billion by 2022. According to the think tank, USA accounts for 23% of the global production, followed by Western Europe (22%), China (13%) and Japan (7%), while the share of India in world technical textiles market is about 4-5%. Technical textiles exports from India stand at Rs 14,013 crore in year 2018-19 and are likely to reach a level of Rs 20,000 crore in next two years.
Some of the reasons why people are using this fabric besides superior performance include applications in a plethora of non-conventional textile industries ranging from defence & railways to automobiles & healthcare. Moreover, the nation’s growing economy is fuelling the demand for technical textiles. Further, the Indian government has been vigorously promoting and implementing major schemes such as Technology Mission on Technical Textiles (TMTT), scheme for promoting usage of agro-textiles and use of geotechnical textiles in the northeast, scheme for pushing the use of agro-textiles and the creation of Focus Incubation Centres (FIC). Added to this, the government is allowing 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) under the automatic route in this sector.
Moreover, India has a number of strengths that it enjoys, such as the availability of young and cheap manpower, strong textile value chain and availability of manufacturing infrastructure. Despite that however, the sector is crippled by weaknesses. At present, a majority of machinery used to manufacture technical textile products is not available in India. Further, what makes the country internationally uncompetitive is the import of specialty fibres because of little or no domestic manufacturing. There is also a low awareness about technical textile products in end users. This is a major detriment to the pan-Indian adoption of technical textiles by people in the country. Another major challenge is that several technical textile products do not have standard benchmarks, resulting in availability of sub-standard cheaper products.
Going forward, there needs to be awareness of end-use applications of technical textiles. This can be done by educating the users about the benefits of the fabrics such as safety, hygiene and better product life cycle. Key Indian players also need to invest in innovation and generate high-value products to position India as global hub for technical textile and to compete with countries like China that are ahead in terms of scale and technology. A proactive approach towards expanding the existing market is also the need of the hour.
Further, India also needs to ensure that standardised products are rolled out in the markets through appropriate implementation of these standards at the government level through regulatory reforms. These are also important for life-saving products like seat belts, not just from the quality point of view but also for ensuring the safety of the passengers.
Countries across the world have adopted stringent standards for technical textiles. The regulation for food packaging in Japan is governed by the “Food Safety Basic Law (2003)” and food sanitation law (1947) which have specifications and standards for different food packaging materials and ensure that food packing does not contain toxic or harmful content. Similarly, in the US, federal regulations mandate the use of personal protective equipments (PPE) under “Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA)“. The Regulation commands the employer to provide and ensure the use of protective equipment at the place of work wherever it is necessary by reason of hazards of processes or environment, chemical hazards, radiological hazards, or mechanical irritants encountered in a manner capable of causing injury or impairment in the function of any part of the body through absorption, inhalation or physical contact.
Government needs to promote manufacturing of high-tech machinery fibres and specialty to boost technical textiles sector and reduce import dependence for machinery. The system should also foster the culture of indigenous research in the field and design courses on entrepreneurship in technical textiles. The government is already preparing a comprehensive policy on technical textiles is being prepared to make their use mandatory in certain sectors, provide financial support to promote domestic manufacturing and set standards to make India a production hub for them.