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Changing the subject

August 10th, 2020 / By: / My Take

by Janet Preus

Do you find that every conversation either starts or ends with one of two subjects: the pandemic or politics? Or both? It’s understandable that those of us in the textile industry would be preoccupied with addressing the needs of a world crisis, created by this insidious virus called COVID-19. Textiles have had, and will continue to play, a critical role in how we manage to survive it. 

But how about we talk about something else? How about a technology that, generally, has been exploding in multiple industries and, by comparison, is just finding its way into textiles? Care to guess?

Before you say “3D printing, but that’s not really a textile,” let me say this: sometimes it’s necessary to let go of our preconceived ideas, even our ideas about what a textile is or is not. On the outer edges of our efforts to define “textile,” it becomes mostly semantics anyway. “If it behaves like a textile, we call it a textile,” I often say. But that’s not entirely accurate, either. “Woven, nonwoven, knitted …” Well, you know the list, I’m sure. 

So, what would you call a material that’s soft and flexible like (at least most) textiles, and can be used in textile applications, including clothing and, yes, PPE? We have to call these materials something, and if they are made, essentially, from materials familiar to the textile industry. (See “3D printing comes into its own” by Seshadri Ramkumar), then I see no reason why we shouldn’t add them to the “type of textiles” list, if you will. 

Dr. Ramkumar gives us a little history of this development with materials and applications that may seem on the fringes of the textile industry, but that (again) is my point. If these materials can be used as textiles are used, and engineered to perform as well as or better than current materials, shouldn’t the textile industry “own” them? Dr. Ramkumar also makes note of the expected growth in 3D technology overall. Growth, change, innovations … this is how we as an industry flourish. 

It’s hard to find anything good in a pandemic, as we all know, but at least there is this one: new collaborations among diverse disciplines have begun because of the needs of this crisis and have resulted in new ways to make PPE using 3D technology. Even better, it is likely that they will continue once the crisis subsides, eventually finding new uses for the technology and materials that will address future challenges and offer new opportunities for the industry.