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Technical Textiles: A Growing Necessity for the Indian Textile Industry

Technical Textiles: A Growing Necessity for the Indian Textile Industry

Written by: Dr. Seshadri Ramkumar

Nonowovens & Advanced Materials Laboratory

Texas Tech University, USA

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Technical textiles are value-added textiles, which span the entire spectrum of the textile industry. These products are predominantly used for improving the life-style, protecting the environment and enhancing human life. Simply put, technical textiles are fibrous materials produced and available in different forms and shapes such as mats, yarns, fabrics, composites, made-up goods and converted products which can be used in everyday life and are non-commodity items. Technical textiles can be made using different common, uncommon and combinatorial processes such as weaving, knitting, nonwovens, composite formation, etc. Technical textiles can be even in raw fiber form depending on the end-use applications, need and economics. This sector is a growth segment within the textile industry. Technical textiles sector is one among a very few industrial sectors that is expected to grow on par with the GDP. This has been the case historically and the growth relationship between the GDP in PPP terms and the technical textiles industry has been found to be linear. Therefore, based on historical data, even in the current bleak economic scenario, this sector should witness a growth. The current value of the global technical textiles sector at the fabric level that includes nonwovens, industrial and specialty fabrics is roughly US$ 150 billion. This number does not include the value of converted products at the consumer level and focuses on rollgoods or unconverted fabrics.

According to the latest economic forecasts by PricewaterhouseCoopers, in 2011, the global economy is expected to grow at 3.1%. The U.S., Western Europe, China, India, Brazil and Russia are expected to grow at 2.4, 1.3, 9.4, 8.5, 4.3 and 4.5 percentage respectively. As is evident from the above predictions, high growth is expected in BRIC nations and particularly in China and India. This positive economic forecast will be of immense benefit to India as it endeavors to spearhead the growth of its technical textiles industry. Based on the historical trends, the India technical textiles sector should grow around 8.5 percentage. The current estimate by Government of India is 11%. Our research at Texas Tech University in the recent past has predicted a double-digit growth for the Indian technical textiles sector. This was based on the GDP estimates by the World Bank and this growth estimate has been vindicated by the market survey conducted by ICRA Management Consultancy carried out through a project funded by the Ministry of Textiles, India. This article will highlight the current scenario of the Indian technical textiles sector and will articulate a few steps that are necessary to boost this sector in India.

Status of the Indian Textiles Industry

Indias textile industry is a conventional industry dominated by cotton. According to a recent report by the Ministry of Textiles, India, there are 1834 textile mills with an installed capacity of 37 million ring spindles, 489,718 rotors and 56,526 looms. Compared to the capacity of the conventional textile industry, the nonwoven roll good production is between 80,000 and 100,000 metric tons. Textiles industry, which includes the nascent technical textiles sector, contributes 4% to the GDP and 14% to the industrial production. The two main reasons which make the Indian textiles industry strong are: 1) export earnings and 2) employment opportunities. Indias textiles industry employs some 35 million people directly and contributes 17% to the total export earnings of the country.

Need for Technical Textiles Sector in India

The economic strength of the Indian textiles industry comes from its export earnings. The competitive advantage that India had in terms of its labor cost has been eroding slowly and smaller nations such as Bangladesh and Vietnam due to cheaper labor and trade agreements with the US and Europe are gaining advantageous positions with regard to foreign trade. More recently, the decrease in the consumer spending and the global economic recession has forced the Indian textile industry to start thinking seriously about technical textiles. The government and the industry are looking for diversification opportunities to enlarge the overall market size of the Indian textiles industry. India textiles industry wants to reach the size of US $ 115 billion by 2012. The expectation is that the technical textiles sector will contribute at least 10% to the overall market size, which will be US $ 11.5 billion. The current value of the Indian technical textiles sector is around US $8 billion. This means, Indias technical textiles sector has to nearly double in size in years ahead. All stake holders, i.e., industry and trade associations, Government, industry related trade associations and textile academia and working seriously to build a viable technical textiles sector in India. In this connection, Government of India is playing a significant role in creating awareness and developing a knowledge base for the NWTT sector. Since mid 2000s, the government has supported many technical awareness programs. Both INDA and EDANA have offered sector wise training programs in major textile hubs such as Surat, Coimbatore, New Delhi, etc.

Market Size of Indias Technical Textiles Sector

In India, the value-added textiles industry is collectively grouped into to a single sector commonly referred to as technical textiles. This sector encompasses fiber to converted products industry. Indian technical textiles industry is nascent and highly fragmented. Government of India sponsored a nation-wide market survey to estimate the size, need and the growth potential of this industry. ICRA, a management consultancy undertook the government sponsored study and has estimated the current market size to be 398,760 million Indian rupees (~US $8.86 billion). It is expected to grow at 11% to reach a size of 664,050 million Indian rupees (~US $14.76 billion) by 2012-13. The consumption will be slightly under the market size. The report divides the technical textiles sector into 12 segments as categorized by the TechTextil years

ago. The largest segments are Packtech, Clothtech, Indutech and Meditech. In my opinion, the categorization of the nascent Indian technical textiles into 12 segments is premature and will cause confusions. There are several products that can fit well in many segments and such a categorization for an emerging market may not be suitable. In order to have an easier and useful segmentation from the point of view of marketing, we have proposed a three way classification of the technical textiles sector: 1) Consumer Products; 2) Institutional Products and 3) Government Procurement Products. Consumer products include personal care, baby care and hygiene products. In this category, global brands such as Huggies and Pampers have penetrated into the market. Major players are P&G, Kimberly-Clark, SCA-Godrej and Johnson and Johnson. Products from these major international companies are predominantly sold in pharmacies and retails stores such as Birlas More and Big Bazaars. The consumers that use these products are predominantly middle-income, upper middle class and those from the upper strata of the society. The cost and the lack of awareness prohibit the penetration of these products into the rural and low income areas. There will be growth in the consumption of institutional products such as geotextiles, automotive textiles and hospital products. India has a plan to build 20 kilometers of national highway per day which will lead to more consumption of technical textiles products. Government procurement category also offers scope as the Ministry of Defense, Government of India has recently streamlined its procurement policies. Those countries that have quality defense textiles products and liaison bodies in India will have advantages over the others.

What the Indian NWTT Sector Needs?

  1. There is an immediate need for the converting sector in India. Due to the growing domestic consumption and increase in wages, the need for consumer products at affordable rates will rise. International NWTT industry, machinery makers and trade bodies should look for win-win opportunities in the creation of converting clusters.
  2. India has adequate roll good manufacturers although not of high quality. The needs of the domestic market as of today can be met with the existing capacity. There are approximately 50 spunbond manufacturers with predominantly Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese machinery. The industry at present is reluctant to invest in high-end machinery as the market is not established and well built for marketing the products.
  3. Technical schools to educate and train skilled workers who can be employed in the growing NWTT sector are needed.
  4. Knowledge on converting roll goods to end-user products is needed. This also includes knowledge on chemical finishing and formulation developments.
  5. Marketing know-how and coordinated approach towards marketing are needed.

All stake holders have realized the need for a coordinated body to represent the interests of the growing technical textiles industry. The NWTT sector in India has just formed the Indian Technical Textiles Association (ITAA) with its current headquarters in Mumbai.

In 2008 (See Nonwovens Industry magazine, February 2008), we predicted based on the available GDP growth numbers for India from the World Bank, Indias NWTT sector will grow at a rate of 13% in the following years. The government of India sponsored market survey by the ICRA consultancy is forecasting a growth of 11% per annum. In a general sense, the growth will be in double digits. As elaborated above, there is an emergent need to grow the converting sector, which will spearhead the growth of other segments of the NWTT sector. Machinery makers, fabric producers, fiber manufacturers and industry trade bodies should take note of the above immediate needs of the Indian NWTT industry and the Indian market and engage in relevant trade talks and promotional activities.

What is Next for the Indian Textile Industry?

The growing trade deficit in developed nations such as the United States and United Kingdom has alarmed these governments and others in the developed world. For example, according to the United Kingdoms Office for National Statistics, imports from China into the UK have grown from 5 billion pounds in 2001 to about 25 billion pounds in 2009. Whereas, the exports have not grown that much; in 2009, the exports amounted to about 5 billion pounds only. United States and others have taken the liberty to advise China and other developing nations such as Brazil, India and Russia to balance their trade by growing their domestic markets. This topic was at the center stage in the recent G-20 summit in Seoul, South Korea. Apart from these G-20 deliberations, due to population growth in emerging markets, particularly in East and South Asian countries, there will be boost in domestic consumption. There will be an increase in the consumption of food and commodity items such as textiles. However, the market size in developed nations will shrink due to increased savings, slowing of economy and slow down in the growth of population. The textile industry in India has to adapt to these changing landscapes. Therefore, it should diversify to meet the challenges of the 21st century markets.

Technical Textiles: Is it a Panacea?

With the changing economic and social landscapes, the Indian textile industry should grow and diversify. The technical textiles sector should grow, which can cater to both domestic and export markets. This sector has created enormous buzz in the past five years. Although this sector has received great attention from all stakeholders, good number of projects has not evolved. I have articulated two main reasons for the lack of growth: 1) lack of practical knowledge/experience and 2) lack of market know-how. It looks like Government of India has taken note of these and is unveiling a Technological Mission on Technical Textiles (TMTT) soon with an investment of rupees 200 crores. In fact, I was privileged enough to learn about it early on and broke the news about it in October this year. TMTT is a step in the right direction. All stakeholders should join hands in making this mission productive, useful and successful.

This Article was distributed at the Technology Mission on Technical textiles (TMTT) 2010-11 to 2014-15 launches in MoT-FICC meeting on 20 Jan2011 in New Delhi, India.

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