Polymers and Composites in Technical Textiles

December 2018

Technical textiles are defined as textile materials and products manufactured primarily for their technical and performance properties rather than their aesthetic or decorative characteristics. 

According to this definition, textiles of all designs (such as woven, knit, braided, or nonwoven), constructed of all types of fibers or combinations or blends of fibers, which have been manufactured primarily for their technical and performance properties rather than their aesthetic or decorative characteristics, are technical textiles.  The natural (such as cotton, silk, or wool) and synthetic (such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic) fibers used in constructing the vast majority of such technical textiles are polymeric fibers. 

Composite materials where a thermoset or thermoplastic polymer matrix is reinforced with fibers or with fabrics constructed from such fibers are also technical textiles the definition provided above is interpreted broadly.  In these materials, the fibers may be non-polymeric (such as carbon or glass) or polymeric (such as aramid or cellulose) fibers, but the matrix material is always a polymer.

It is, therefore, clear that polymers and composites are the key components of the vast majority of technical textiles.  Hence the more effective use of polymers and composites provides some of the greatest opportunities for innovation and efficiency in technical textiles.  The benefits of advancements in technical textiles include broader versatility in applications, greater sustainability, enhanced mechanical properties, increased durability, targeted suitability for unique scenarios and applications, and more.  

Polymer and composite use in technical textiles can be found in a wide range of applications, serving as examples of the benefits readily available, as well as emphasizing the potential for innovation and customization to fulfill even the most advanced and unique requirements.  

At Bicerano & Associates, our expertise in polymers and composites helps our clients to develop polymers and composites for any application they may require.

Polymer and Composite Applications

The following industry and application highlights provide a sampling of the vast range of possibilities available through polymer and composite use in technical textiles.  More detailed discussions are provided for several industries on separate webpages, as indicated.

Transportation vehicles:  Technical textiles find many uses in automotive, aerospace, and marine applications.  Some examples of these uses are provided below.  See Polymers and Composites in the Transportation Industry for a more detailed discussion.

  • Automotive vehicles: Technical textiles based on polymers and composites constitute major components of the interiors of cars and other land vehicles.  The covers of car seats, seat belts, and airbags are among the most familiar examples.  Other examples of automotive technical textiles include tires and various belts and hoses as well as polymer composite components in automotive bodies.  Textiles used in car interiors have historically been derived from fossil fuel based feedstocks which still remain dominant.  With sustainability becoming an increasingly more important concern in the industry, however, textiles based on biopolymers are being used increasingly more often nowadays in automotive interiors as alternatives to petroleum-based plastics.
  • Aerospace vehicles: Technical textiles are also used in aircraft tires and interiors.  Of even greater value, however, is the ability of technical textiles to help satisfy the relentless drive in the aerospace industry to enhance performance while reducing weight.  Most importantly, fiber-reinforced composites can be optimized to combine high strength, stiffness, and toughness, and low density, and thus to obtain exceptional strength-to-density and stiffness-to-density ratios along with superior physical properties, so that they are often the structural materials of choice for use in aircraft components.
  • Marine vehicles: Technical textiles find many uses in marine vehicles.  Fiberglass boats are among the most familiar examples since fiberglass is a composite where a matrix polymer is reinforced by glass fibers which may be arranged randomly, or as a chopped strand mat, or as a woven fabric.  The growing use of lighter, stiffer, and stronger carbon fibers instead of glass fibers is an emerging trend in boatbuilding.  Other examples of marine technical textiles include sailcloth that can be manufactured by using any of several types of polymeric fibers and then used in constructing sails for sailboats.

Medical devices: Polymers and composites are essential components of technical textiles used in medical devices and applications.  Some examples of these uses are provided below.  See Polymers and Composites in the Medical Device Industry for a more detailed discussion.

  • Use as biodegradable “threads” or sutures, which dissolve in a benign manner after a designated period — which can be customized based on the molecular structure of the material — without the need for removal from the patient.
  • Components of a wide range of medical devices; such as MRI scanners, C scanners, X-ray couches, mammography plates, tables, surgical target tools, wheelchairs, and prosthetics.
  • Medical garments, when protection is critical for both patient and provider.

Personal protective equipment:  Polymers and composites can be used to manufacture technical textiles as protective equipment for use in harsh environments (as in extreme heat or cold), when exposed to fire (as firefighters often are), when facing deadly weapons (as soldiers and law enforcement personnel often face), and in many other hazardous situations.  Protection against temperature extremes, moisture, rain, chemical exposure, fire, clothing puncture, projectiles, abrasion, biohazards, radiation, explosions, high voltage, static electricity, and more can be achieved through the use of polymers and composites.

Clothing components:  In addition to their use in personal protective equipment (including protective clothing) as summarized above, technical textiles find many uses in as components in almost all types of clothing.  These uses include sewing threads, wadding, linings, and thermal insulation materials.  The most important use of technical textiles in clothing, however, is their utilization as the main materials of construction of a broad range of performance apparel for sports activities.  See Polymers and Composites in the Sporting Goods Industry for a more detailed discussion.

Footwear:  The performance and comfort of footwear, as well as the durability of shoe interiors and exteriors, can be improved with the help of technical textiles.  Technical textiles of various types of design, chosen mainly for their technical and performance properties, are among the materials of construction.   The fiber types used in such textiles include cotton, wool, nylon, polyester, polypropylene, rayon, Spandex, and many others.  Textiles constructed from these different types of fibers and their blends span a broad range of properties and performance characteristics and are used in many different parts of performance footwear.  In addition, biologically resistant or reactive composites may be used to counteract the typical drawbacks of conventional shoe textiles, such as odor, bacteria, and fungi.  The optimum use of polymers and composites is essential for manufacturing footwear that can be used for prolonged periods in harsh environments.  See Polymers and Composites in the Sporting Goods Industry for a more detailed discussion.

Sporting goods:  Technical textiles find many uses in sporting goods.  The following are some examples.  See Polymers and Composites in the Sporting Goods Industry for a more detailed discussion.

  • Textiles used in performance apparel and performance footwear are technical textiles since they are chosen mainly for their technical and performance properties.
  • Biologically resistant or reactive polymers and composites can provide protection against the hazards posed by sports equipment use, primarily excessive moisture, which promotes the growth of bacteria and fungi.
  • Fiber-reinforced composites are used as materials of construction in high-performance sports gear because of their light weight, high strength, many degrees of freedom of design, and easy processing and forming characteristics. Examples of sports gear where such composites are used include skis, baseball bats, golf clubs, tennis rackets, and bicycle frames.
  • Parachutes, balloon fabrics, paraglide fabrics, and sailcloth are other examples of the use of technical textiles in sports gear and equipment.

Home textiles:  The uses of technical textiles in the home environment include hollow thermally insulating fibers incorporated into bedding and sleeping bags, soundproofing curtains, and darkening curtains.  In the examples involving curtains, customers interested in soundproofing and/or darkening performance from their curtains prefer such curtains for their technical properties over curtains with comparable aesthetic or decorative characteristics. 

Industrial equipment:   Examples include filters, conveyor belts, abrasive belts, casings, and reinforcements for equipment components.  The uses of equipment in which such technical textiles are incorporated span almost all industries.

Packaging:  Technical textiles are used both in consumer packaged goods and industrial packaged goods applications.  Consumer packaged goods applications include packaging materials used to wrap and protect meats, vegetables, and fruits, as well as tea bags and coffee bags.  Industrial packaged goods applications include bags and sacks used to ship and/or store various products.  See Polymers and Composites in the Consumer Packaged Goods Industry for a more detailed discussion.

Fishing equipment:  Articles in which technical textiles are used include nets, ropes, and lines.

Agriculture and horticulture:  Technical textiles are used in various covering, protection, and containment applications.  They may be woven, knit, or nonwoven in their design.  Examples include sunscreens, bird protection nets, plant and crop protection nets, ground covers, windshields, root ball nets, insect meshes, turf protection nets, much mats, monofilament nets, tape nets, cherry covers, nets for covering pallets, packing materials for agricultural products, and geotextiles providing benefits in agricultural applications.

Building, construction, and civil engineering:  Examples include glass and polyester fabrics used in roofing applications, breathable membranes that prevent the penetration of moisture into walls, composite walls, composite panels, textiles used for the thermal insulation of buildings and equipment, and geotextiles providing benefits in civil engineering projects.  See Polymers and Composites in the Building, Construction, and Civil Engineering Industry for a more detailed discussion.

Call Bicerano & Associates Consulting, LLC at (912) 235-2238 or use our online form or email us at bicerano@polymerexpert.biz today!