Editorial Feature

Bringing Textiles With Innovative Properties to the General Public

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The textiles sector is one of the early users of nanotechnology processes and products. Within the fabric sector, branding of nanotechnology will be crucial to the incorporation of nanotechnology across the range of industries.

Innovation in the Textiles Industry

Textile innovation can include product innovation, which is “the development of new products to address existing or latent consumer demand”, and process innovation resulting in lower unit costs, better quality, or more capacity. Australia is well placed to lead innovation in textiles, because of its good technology base, robust production base, and proven infrastructure (manufacturing, marketing, quality control, and distribution).

In Australia, technology supply to the industry is directed by CSIRO Textile & Fiber Technology, the top domestic technology supplier to sectors like leather, wool, cotton, and technical textiles at the fiber, fabric, yarn, and garment levels.

The Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, which includes the University of Wollongong, CSIRO TFT, CSIRO CMIT, and RMIT University, has globally acknowledged expertise.

The Council of Textile and Fashion Industries Limited is also involved in a variety of projects aimed at helping the Australian Textiles and Clothing industry to produce, adapt, and market advanced products and practices.

Opportunities for Nanotechnology

In near future, nanotechnology opportunities in the textiles sector will be in product innovation, and not in process innovation. Nanotechnology will most probably be used to develop new materials, or improve the properties of current materials, than to enhance quality or decrease the production cost.

Several nanotechnology innovations are already available in the market. These include:

  • Clothing that can absorb body odors
  • Wrinkle, stain, and liquid-resistant fabrics
  • Clothing that releases deodorant by slow release
  • Clothing that modifies the color with external or body heat
  • Clothing that modifies the color with a change in light

There are several opportunities which will be looked into as nanotechnology progresses further:

  • New blended fabrics for particular applications (for example, mountain wear, sportswear, and military applications), including the addition of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) into fabrics. It is anticipated that composites with CNTs or interweaved with extruded CNT fibers will add higher capacitive and conductivity, along with high strength.
  • Property improvement or alterations (UV blocking, flexibility, breathability, durability, color retention, recyclability, self-repair, etc.); included in this are the incorporation of electronic properties into fabrics by treatment with naturally conducting polymers. These offer capabilities such as sensing (mechanical and chemical), energy storage (supercapacitors and batteries), energy generation (photovoltaics), and charge dissipation (anti-static). Furthermore, controlled-release polymers may replenish and/or activate the release of antifungal, medical growth aids, or surface finish to the polymer surface. The triggered release systems can be made to be receptive to stimuli such as variations in humidity, pH, temperature, and/or dissolved oxygen.
  • Development of particular appealing properties (for example, color change with the angle of light, glow in the dark, and color change artwork with the applied electric field).
  • Manufacture of synthetic fibers (such as polyester) with properties of natural fibers (such as wool) by surface coating.

Nanotechnology Victoria—Textiles Projects

Nanotechnology Victoria (NanoVic) is managing a range of product assessments for a Victorian nanoparticle manufacturer looking for opportunities in the treated textiles market. The particles have appealing optical properties, which can be moved to textiles through a polymer coating or lacquer. Product performance is critically based on binding within the coating; dispersion mechanisms, and loading of the particles.

The evaluation and design process of NanoVic will probably lead to new applications for nanoparticles, and also offer beneficial technical marketing support to the manufacturer’s approach.

The company has already invested in the development of capabilities, which will aid textile nanotechnology:

  • The Victorian Advanced Microscopy Centre set up at Monash University in 2006 has advanced characterization equipment (FEG-SEM and FEG-TEM) capable of examining the composition of materials like fibers at the molecular level. Core projects associated with the textile industry include analysis of structures like nanoparticle-polymer composites; CNTs and nanofibers; and engineering of nanostructures with multiple layers.

These will add to the development of new products for the Australian textiles industry, such as:

  • Polyurethanes and new polymers with better electrical properties and strength
  • Materials with biodegradable and fire-resistant properties

CSIRO, a member of NanoVic, offers world-class expertise in wool and other keratin-based materials, and has recently been involved in innovative development of CNT yarns.

At a wider level, NanoVic believes that the technical textiles industry will be one of the top adopters of nanotechnology in the next 10 years in Victoria:

  • Nanotechnology treatments—mainly provided by NanoTex (USA)—are already sold in garments marketed by Kathmandu and other Australian outdoor apparel makers.
  • Victoria has an active technical textiles and specialty garment industry, featuring companies in defense and security, sportswear, mountain wear, and beachwear product sectors.
  • Textiles for industrial usage, like filters and conveyor belts, are also designed and manufactured in Victoria.

NanoVic has received queries from companies in these areas and is building project proposals and relationships. The Victorian Government is also conscious of the opportunity, and is looking at establishing an Application Development Center for Technical Textiles.

NanoVic has also begun relationships with several companies in Taiwan that are keen on applying significant Australian technological developments. These are mentioned below:

  • Formosa Taffeta has a special interest in nanopigments. It is also involved in multifunctional moisture management fabrics, reflective textiles, cleanroom clothing, conductive textiles, and self-cleaning or antibacterial textiles.
  • The Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) is involved in several NanoVic’s projects including dye-sensitized solar cells, thermal control coatings on window glass, photocatalytic materials, heat transfer from IC devices, and CNT-based devices.
  • Haojey creates textiles comprising a TiO2 particle core to provide UV resistance, silver nanoparticles for antibacterial textiles, and nanobamboo for odor adsorption.

The Textiles Industry in Australia

The Australian textiles sector is one of the country’s main domestic industries, both in supply for domestic consumption and as an export earner. The industry has flourished in Australia because land is abundantly available for low-cost production of natural fibers like cotton and wool. Also, there is a concerted focus on investment and technology development for more than five decades. As a consequence:

  • Australia has a leading international position in the production of wool (about 25% of global production), cotton (12% of world exports), and blended fibers
  • The textiles sector contributed a little more than 5% to total value added in manufacturing in Australia in 1992-‘93
  • Western economies spend roughly 5% of their total personal expenditure on footwear and clothing.

At the initial stage of processing in textiles, the Australian sector is comparatively concentrated with merely a few key players in each primary industry segment. However, when observed down the processing chain, particularly related to apparel, the industry is relatively more fragmented with a vast number of small and micro businesses, and some more robust companies (like Pacific Brands and the Yakka Group).

Local manufacturing has customarily been highly protected through tariffs and quotas, although these have been radically reduced over time. Quotas were removed in 1993 and tariffs were dropped to 5% by 2015, exposing the industry to considerably more restructuring pressure than endured by any other Australian industry.

Australian-based leaders in the technical textiles industry include:

  • Textor Australia—The foremost manufacturer of non-woven textiles for use in food packaging, healthcare and hygiene, filtration, cleaning, and environmental applications
  • Australian Defense Apparel—Makers of a variety of protective clothing
  • Melba Textiles—Producer and exporter of a complete range of high-performance fabrics for a wide variety of industries

Other prominent Australian companies in the related fields of garments, fabrics, and footwear include:

  • Godfrey Hirst—carpets
  • Blundstone—footwear
  • Highmark Shoes—footwear
  • CTE—protective apparel
  • Yakka—workwear
  • Oliver’s—footwear

Australian manufacturers are global players in a few of these areas. For instance, Australian technology has transformed Albany International into a world leader in filter bags for the power generation industry. In addition, Australian technology is leading the filtration field in the alumina smelting industry, and in a few geotextiles areas.

Australian textiles companies are using nanotechnology to create new properties:

  • Australian Wool Innovation Ltd is intensely researching fibers through more than 60 ongoing projects. Its key focus is to create fibers with major weight reduction, increased stretch, and improved drape of the garments.
  • CSIRO Textile and Fiber Technology explores a wide range of areas for textiles spanning from technical textiles based on synthetic fibers through to the natural fibers of cotton, wool, and leather. Furthermore, the Molecular Science division has also cooperated with the industry on numerous projects concerning the textiles industry.
  • Both Bruck Textiles and Australian Defense Apparel are exploring and selling in the field of protective clothing. This covers both military and civil applications, for example, bullet-proof vests and fireman suits. Features of nanotechnology such as integration of CNTs could offer better performance of the protective clothing.

Globally, NanoTex is the recognized market leader in utilizing nanotechnology in textiles to improve their properties. It is a US-based company that uses technology to develop, alter, and enhance textiles at the molecular level to create smart fabrics for better living. NanoTex’s products include NANO-CARE®, NANO-DRY®, NANO-PEL™, and NANO-TOUCH™. NANO-CARE® is a stain-repelling fabric with wrinkle resistance, yet provides good breathability.

Levi Strauss has introduced its Dockers proStyle™ collection of casual business menswear. The collection utilizes both the Nano-Touch™ and Nano-Dry nanotechnology innovations from NanoTex to safeguard the fabric in the garments from water-based stains. Other significant companies to use nanotechnology solutions from NanoTex are Champion®, Nike®, Sleepmaker®, and Kathmandu®.

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