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When is a fabric a fabric?

February 10th, 2015 / By: / My Take

This month, our featured material is not about a specific market area, per se, but rather about the challenge of commercializing new technology in any segment of the industry. There’s enough to talk about here to fill a shelf of encyclopedias (remember those?), so the challenge was to manage the topic, given the expanse of materials and markets possible in advanced textiles. One way to do it, I thought: tell one person’s story, or better yet, have him tell his own story, which we have done.

Dr. Sheshadri Ramkumar, with his research partners at Texas Tech University, developed the product now called FiberTect® and has shown admirable tenacity in bringing it to market by connecting with the right manufacturer (First Line Technology) and getting the word out about it. In fact, Dr. Ramkumar has been instrumental in keeping the development of nonwovens and their potential to be engineered for various high performance applications in front of the technical textiles community. You may already know about this product, but maybe you haven’t heard “the rest of the story.”

One my tasks—and sometimes a dilemma—is to determine whether or not the information I find about technologies and products has to do with “fabric.” One of the tasks innovators face is redefining terms for their intended audience. At what point did we accept nonwovens as “fabric?” I doubt that it happened overnight.

Since we use the terms “fabric” and “textile” rather broadly here at IFAI, I feel like I’m in safe territory with wovens, knits, nonwovens, films, PVC, composites and the materials that go into making these (fibers and yarns, particularly, but also polymers and other materials).

It’s that “other materials” where it gets dicey. Since I consider fair game the materials up and down the value chain, from research in nanocoatings, for example, to the end products that may benefit from that research, I am making judgment calls left and right based on the information available to me—and I can be like a puppy in the woods with this research, because everything “smells” interesting!

I know that it’s unlikely that all of the products and technologies we share with you in our articles will make it to market. Nevertheless, there is always something useful to be learned from innovative work, even when the moniker “textile” is a bit of a stretch. For example, what could be done with the process developed to make the 4D Kinematics dress? What about this project could prove useful in other markets? It’s amazing, but is it made out of a textile? Maybe part of expanding the possibilities in advanced textiles is to continue expanding the definition.