Nothing else is closer to us than our clothes because they protect us, fulfil special functions and make us look good. Particularly the sports and outdoor industry is known to be a trendsetter – for new materials, improved functions and innovative product concepts but also in terms of sustainability. The development dynamics are very high due to increasing customer demands and legal provisions.
Outdoor activities are still trendy, no matter where they are done – in the mountains, in the woods or in the city. During these activities people want to be protected against wind and water and prefer clothes with a stain-repellent surface. “People additionally ask for high comfort in terms of moisture management, breathability and heat regulation for a dry wear comfort. The cooling function through evaporation is to be equally maintained through a sufficient residual humidity”, says Ms. Christine Körner, Rudolf GmbH. Customers mostly take these functions for granted.
Dr. Annegret Vester, CHT R. BEITLICH GmbH, thinks that the topic of functionalisation is currently moving into two directions: on the one hand it is the combination of various properties and on the other hand it is the wish for technically even more sophisticated functions. Both developments go together with a stronger ecological awareness of the customers. Depending on the application customers do, however, also accept compromise solutions such as a limited weather protection for the benefit of an improved comfort and feel-good factor. “A further trend is the increasing demand for personalised solutions with regard to design and good fit”, states Dr. Martin Hottner, W.L. Gore & Associates GmbH. As a consequence, mainly long lasting, elastic materials continue to be developed. Moreover, the share of functional textiles in classic fashion is getting increasingly important. Ms. Körner expects future consumers to increasingly ask for protective functions, wear comfort, easy care properties and fashionable design.
Sustainability is presently of crucial importance for functional textiles – after all because sustainability has an above-average media presence. “This discussion about sustainability leads to higher efforts for ecological production processes and the abandonment of harmful substances by all partners within the textile chain“, states Dr. Vester. This development is pushed forward by a great number of initiatives such as the “Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals“ (ZDHC) or the ”Alliance for Sustainable Textiles“ and the European Substance Law REACH. Dr. Hottner is convinced that REACH will lead to the development of new finishing processes and chemicals. He sees great functionalisation potentials in the digital printing technique, e.g. based on ink-jet printers. However, he also states that certain current finishes such as the long chain hydrophobic finishes (Durable Water Repellency DWR) used so far will no longer be allowed under REACH. The current list of candidates for the next registration in 2018 contains 168 critical substances, among others individual perfluorinated and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). This is especially a great challenge for the manufacturers of technical textiles since similar alternatives are hardly available on the market. The complete industry is demanded to develop new materials for an efficient DWR.
Ms. Körner confirms that REACH is the dominating topic for new developments, supplier ratings and the marketing of existing products. The search for alternative raw materials and ready-for-use products which are already listed at the ECHA is in the focus. Companies also increasingly evaluate the self-registration of substances.
For sports, fashion and outdoor clothing water repellency is still the top target tending clearly to an increased use of repellent products based on fluorine-free finishing technologies. The industry currently mainly focuses on developing alternatives which are free from fluorocarbon resin. Fluorine-free systems can by definition not meet all functional demands such as oil repellency. So far, only perfluorinated substances have had the correspondingly low surface energy to ensure the repellency of oily liquids. Soil release as well as the repellency of oil and chemicals are e.g. essential demands on protective textiles.
“Ecological repellent finishes were developed furthermore, so that they now offer a better performance. At present, we have some promising projects in the fields of heat regulation, soft handle finishing and flame retardancy“, says Ms. Körner. Heat regulation is also one of the development subjects at CHT R. BEITLICH GmbH where they are e.g. working on heatable coatings. Wear comfort and weather protection are also combined by a two layer laminate, currently presented by Gore, which is efficient without an outside textile. Other technological trends in functionalisation stated by the experts are among others formaldehyde-free binders and easy care products as well as the substitution of heavy-weighted materials.
“Besides the development of environmentally friendly materials and processes the life cycle analysis, also called ecological balance, should not be neglected“, stresses Dr. Hottner. The expected product lifetime is frequently not taken into consideration. Another challenge is to find a way for an objective measurability and comparability of the environmental performance. On the European level a “product environmental footprint“ is currently being developed. Dr. Vester is convinced that “in the end, consumers and the environment will benefit from the close cooperation along the textile chain“. The topic of sustainability additionally offers an opportunity to stand out from international competitors and to establish a position as responsible industrial partner. For meeting the increasing consumer demands on function and sustainability with holistic product concepts, however, textile auxiliary producers must work even more closely with the textile finishing industry, textile producers, ready-to-wear clothing manufacturers and retailers.
In the future, the topic of functionalisation will gain in importance because textiles with their specific properties will again and again open up new application fields. Textiles could e.g. be part of communication media in a networked “smart“ world. At present, many fields, e.g. automotive construction, medicine or architecture can no longer do without this modern material. One of the main targets is therefore to exploit all application fields for chemical innovations.
Source: konTEXTIL- journal of the network Textile Innovation (1/2016) / Bayern Innovativ GmbH