The significance and future of
the EU Technical Textile Industry
By Virginia F. Bodmer-Altura
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The public part of the general assembly of EURATEX, the European umbrella organisation of European textile and clothing manufacturers was held in Brussels (B) on June 14th and revealed that the EU Technical Textile industry is able to service world markets in the order of EUR 100 billion, provided that full worldwide market access is guaranteed and innovation is fostered within the EU
Serge Piolat, Vice President of Euratex has been moderating the panel on “Global Markets – Challenge and Opportunity for European Technical Textiles”.
The keynote speaker, Hendrik Van Delden from Gherzi consultancy highlighted the major opportunities and threats for the EU Technical Textiles industry and underlined a couple of high-growth technologies expected to drive the future developments. He gave additionally an overview of how such textiles grow globally and in Europe, despite the fact of massive building-up of capacities in China in the Technical Textile fabric production influencing the world markets in a few years to come. Today, Europe is still leading in using high-growth technologies and he explained the focus on the growing importance of nonwovens applications spreading at the expenses of more traditional technologies. Other promising areas are composites combined with textile technologies and plastics with a broad array of applications. He is further convinced in his findings that weight saving will become increasingly important across all industries and that reinforcement of composites with textile surfaces will offer new growth opportunities for European Technical Textile manufacturers and that Europe with its total value chain and the high quality of innovation efforts will play a major role also in the future.
Olaf Schmidt of Messe Frankfurt reviewed the expected major market developments for instance in civil engineering and construction, filtration and separation, in medical and health areas as well as in mobility, safety and protective applications in key markets such as China, India, South Korea, Russia, Taiwan and the USA. He is convinced that the Technical Textile sector is one of the most innovative segments of the industry and ranks amongst the five high tech areas with the largest future potential of all. He mentioned in this respect the future growth in emerging and global markets, depending on the specific and diversified demands these markets will require in the future in order to solve their societal challenges and that European companies are well placed to respond, provided that a fair market access for such European exporters is given.
Thomas Seynaeve, CEO of Seyntex (B) stated that 90 % of Technical Textiles are still to be invented and that Europe is well placed in this race! The key factor to success is the need to sustain their development and by adopting cross sector initiatives in order to provide textile solutions to other application fields. He named for his company the requirement to add functionalities to its products in order to improve the use of Technical Textiles in PPE Personal Protective Equipment where EU companies are leading the pack. He encouraged the fact that Europe should support the PPE lead market and the EU exports to the world. He underlined that technical textiles show a lot of growth potential in new applications also within EU markets thanks to an enhanced use of CEN standards across the European countries.
Paolo Canonico, CEO of SAATI Spa., Italy manufacturing high-tech products for various applications in the EU and abroad, stressed the need of close relationships with its customers to assure the adequate innovations by answering and servicing its customers, respectively customers’ specifications around the globe. Constant innovation efforts and diversification is the name of the game and assists his company to develop products and solutions for market niches where the technological knowhow, thanks to a multidisciplinary approach, is essential to success in the different fields of application. He is convinced that textile technologies and approaches are to bring solutions “to do” something, such as functionalities and that others are unable to produce. He advocated, that the world realizes that textiles are able “to be” something, for instance fashion, but that without innovative solutions, in-tune with our societies’ needs, the number of end-products would not exist.
Panelist Dr. Ulrich Hornfleck, CEO of Sandler AG, Germany underlined that it is possible to serve world markets while producing and developing competitive products in Europe of high technological content. He stressed the need of skilled employees and innovation in view to master technologies and production processes and make use of raw materials of any kind in order to serve the growingly differentiated needs existing across the various markets niches and where textiles are servicing the purposes. The incorporation of new technologies both in the process and products is paramount to remain competitive and to affront the Asian boom. He added that he is expecting from the EU Commission and other authorities a resilient commitment to provide all of the sectors, and the SME’s we represent, a truly open and fair access to all markets, and at the same time keeping red tape and bureaucracy as limited as possible.
After a discussion and question session the following conclusions were drawn: There is no real differentiation between traditional or Technical Textiles since both have to face the same challenges, and therefore the companies should rely on innovation to create attractive and differentiated products with a skilled workforce to be preserved and nurtured.
The spreading of EU standards, customers’ specifications or CEN standards should assist European companies to export their products worldwide to resist growing technology competition (in absence of barriers) and to develop new technologies and processes to remain ahead of the “convenience competition”.
The highly fragmented European industry, comprising of larger and smaller size of companies, is able to respond to the demands of a myriad of new markets globally, but it is in need of protection from unfair competition. The panelists voiced unanimously that the best way to safeguard the companies is to enhance and prefer technical cooperation with suppliers and customers while looking at industry cross-border applications and integrating sustainable approaches.
All agreed that the future development might push part of the industry to follow their customers worldwide, but not all of the companies are prepared to make this leap (investments). They also made clear that European companies should keep the high-end products in Europe by mastering the new processes and technologies and by using the excellence of R&D and innovation infrastructure as well as the ability to better protect the intellectual property rights and a true level playing field in terms of competition among the different markets, and size is not offering a real hindrance to speed up innovation and to master the complex supply chains in order to respond to the market needs.
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Virginia F. Bodmer-Altura, Publisher