Executive Summary - Textiles Report - Medical & Sports
This report covers the specific areas of outdoors / sports textiles and medical textiles enhanced by nanotechnology. In the 2009 ObservatoryNano report on nanotechnology in textiles, a general overview of the complete area was given; this 2010 report focuses on these two specific application areas.
In the textile sector three main segments are distinguished: apparel (fashion), interior textiles and technical textiles. In Europe, the value distribution for the year 2008 was the following: apparel 37%, interior 33% and technical textiles 30%.
In general, during recent decades the technical textiles segment has seen the strongest growth; for example during the period 1995-2005 the value of this market has grown from €65 to €85 billion. In terms of tonnage (not value) Europe is not the largest market for advanced technical textiles; Asia consumes 8.5 million tonnes, about half of global technical textile production, whereas US and Europe consume 5.8 million and 4.8 million tonnes respectively. In Europe four countries consume about half of the technical textiles in terms of value: Germany, France, the UK and Italy. The technical textiles industry in Germany is 45% of the textile industry, compared to 30% in France, 30% in the UK and 12% in Italy.
Non conventional advanced technical textiles, are high added value products and represent, at the moment, a limited portion of technical textiles sector. However, they are expected to grow steadily in the forthcoming future, progressively gaining a larger share in terms of both volume and value, in a large variety of sectors including medical textiles and sports/outdoors textiles..
The sports/outdoors textiles business covers a quite stretched value chain all the way from fibre production (above all cotton but increasingly advanced polymer fibres) towards spinning of yarns, weaving and knitting of fabrics, subsequent design and production of finished garments and shoes, which are then transported to retailers who sell them to consumers. A relatively limited amount of advanced technology suppliers provide treatments (mainly coatings), some of them nano-enabled, which are applied either on the fibres, on the yarn or on the finished product. The value added in each step of the value chain increases from the early steps (fibres, yarns) towards the later steps (design, marketing, retailing). Major drivers in the sports/outdoor industries are the increased need to offer recognizable functional advantages for high priced brands, in order to maintain their positioning compared to second tier brands or retailer-specific low cost/mid price garments.
In the medical textiles business, value chains are similarly long but product development cycles tend to be longer and R&D efforts are more focussed on obtaining a pre-defined set of performance requirements. Branding and marketing aspects of nanotechnology are present, but less pronounced compared to the key role they play in the outdoor / sports segment, Several fundamental evolutions feed a growing demand for advanced medical textiles: the drive to allow for less frequent changes of bandages; to allow for recovery at home combined with periodical check-ups in ambulatory care regimes; and the increased drive for advanced disposable bandaging or bed linen systems that reduce the need for cleaning or sterilization of repeated use items.
Nanotechnology R&D in relation to these two areas has three main objectives:
- Upgrading of present functions and performance of textile materials
- Introduction of innovative functionalities, not present before in textiles
- Development of smart/intelligent textiles, that is. textiles with new functions as a result of the integration of electronics into fabrics
Researchers seek to introduce nano-enabled functionalities into these textiles following three main approaches:
- Introduction of functional nano-materials into raw materials for fibre production, which can combine the original features of the fibre with nano-material functionality.
- Coating on the surface of fibre or textile with functional nano-materials, to produce functional textiles with greater added value.
- Spinning of polymers (electrospinning) for the production of nanometric fibres, which can lead to non-woven fabrics with improved or new characteristics having multiple applications
Concretely the textile industry directed at sports/outdoors markets and medical markets are currently seeking the following functionalities: Antibacterial (containing a biocide, or photoactive); Self-cleaning, Water/oleo repellence (photoactive, or super-hydrophobic, or anti-adhesive); Moisture absorption; UV-blocking; Tear/wear resistance; Thermal insulation; Conductivity (for antistatic purposes mostly); and Controlled release of active chemical agents such as drugs, cosmetics, fragrances. It should be noted that for each of these functionalities non-nano alternative technologies also exist, which will compete with new nano-enabled developments
The most common applications are currently infection prevention or deodorisation of medical clothing, wound dressing, and bedding. Most other applications have still to reach mass markets; for example nanofibre filters. In sports and outdoors textiles, the main application presently found in the market is that of nanosilver used to reduce unpleasant smells in sport garments. Hydrophobic treatments (such as the Ion Mask Technology marketed by P2i) are also gaining increasing interest from large global companies and can be expected to grow rapidly over the next couple of years.
The application of nanotechnology enabled sensing devices in the combination of electronics and textiles enables the manufacturing of “smart” clothing with active functions, such as sensing, actuating and communicating functionalities. At prototype level, garments with integrated heating elements, devices that can stimulate muscles, or which are able to control/monitor athletes’ physiological parameters and their performance, have been produced.
In general, both the outdoors/sports and the medical textiles businesses are dominated by a limited number of large multinational companies that have the capability to bring innovations to large global markets. In the sports/outdoors segment, these companies (such as Adidas, Nike or VF Corporation) rely mostly on smaller, specialized companies that develop and supply technological innovations. In the medical industry big global players like Johnson & Johnson, Baxter, Beiersdorf or 3M have their own substantial R&D efforts; however, they are used to collaborating with small high tech companies in order to obtain unique selling points that they can leverage in their global marketplaces. Thus, both sub-segments allow for small companies to gain access to global markets as long as they are willing to partner with one or more of these global players.
However, the industry still has a long way to go before nanotechnology enabled products become commonplace. Some major limitations still need to be addressed by research, including process scalability, durability of the nano-enabled functionality under repeated wash & wear, reduction of costs, increasing awareness of end users, and concern about possible negative health effects. This last point is rather important in gaining commercial success. The European textile industry will have to strengthen its efforts to formulate European standards to define an adequate regulatory framework to assure a sustainable production that conforms to the wishes and needs of the consumers in terms of effectiveness (for example in terms antimicrobial or UV protective properties) and safety (for example with respect to cytotoxicity or allergenic potentials).
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