Low Cost Technology Will Give Much Needed Fillip to The Indian Techtex Industry

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The Indian technical textiles industry was touted to be at par with China by 2025. This looks to be unachievable in the next 10-12 years, if growth continues at the current pace. In a free-wheeling interview with Reena Mital, Vikas Sharan, Vice President, Textile Engineering, A.T.E. Enterprises, lists out plausible solutions to the obstacles to growth, and the role of the technology suppliers.

Despite all the noise around technical textiles and nonwovens, we do not see the growth that was being envisaged. Your views?

For certain products in technical textiles and nonwovens, consumption in the country will pick up as disposable incomes rise, and lifestyles improve. Urbanization will also play a role here. This is happening to some extent, so we see a growing market for disposable hygiene products, and such. Compared to China, acceptance of such products is still quite low in India. What is needed is awareness creation among consumers about the benefits of using such products, even if that involves a somewhat higher initial cost.

Another important aspect of the slow growth of this industry is the availability of technology – what is available is mostly very high production lines at very high costs, that make sense only for very high consumption markets, and not in a market that is still very small, and sometimes unclear.  This is a big deterrent for the industry to invest in technical textile manufacturing. The mindset of the industry is also one of the factors for the tardy progress. The industry is used to manufacturing 10-15 varieties of fabrics on one set of textile machines, which is not possible for technical textiles – specific machines can manufacture only those specific products for which they are designed. This has also held back the industry.

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What kind of technology does A.T.E. Enterprises offer?

We have a complete repertoire of the world's best technologies for this segment in terms of spun lace, needle punch, thermo bond, chemical bond and spun bond including SMS. We have also recently introduced coating machines from Lacom and Zimmer. Zimmer introduced its digital printers earlier for textile and carpet.

As for narrow fabrics – belts, ribbons, seat belts, etc., it will introduce its Colaris NF digital printing machine during Techtextil India. We are a complete technology solution provider in technical textiles and nonwovens.

What is the initial market response to Zimmer's digital printer for narrow fabrics?

The machine has generated a lot of excitement amongst the narrow fabric manufacturers who are into this field and who had hitherto not seen a machine of such characteristics. It is a futuristic machine offering, a complete solution to printing of narrow fabrics, for all applications, for the Indian market. Given the backdrop of the Indian market, Zimmer is looking at options that would make the technology even more reachable and popular.

How has the market for coated fabrics moved in India?

Coatings have revolutionized fabric applications. Tarpaulins is a classic example here, woven in a manner that it offered water impermeability to a large extent.  Today, coatings allow lighter fabrics to perform waterproofing applications. Like in most other segments, growth has been slow. Even in apparels, and fabrics for household consumption, coatings are slow on the take-off. Absence of mandatory regulations for higher safety and longer life, and deployment of legislations where they exist, has also kept the market sluggish.

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For instance, in skyscrapers, fire-retardant home furnishings are mandatory above a certain height. But there is no awareness about this legislation among builders, municipality and the householders. Implementing this rule will open up the opportunity for FR treated home furnishings.

What kind of volumes does A.T.E. Enterprises sell in this segment?

Seeing how the market is progressing, we have 1-2 projects per year. For our principals however, China is much more attractive, as the industry there is vibrant and investing heavily.

According to you, is there an alternative to high cost technology?

Spun bond technology is a case in point – the Chinese started manufacturing spun bond machines, at prices much lower than what was available with the Western producers. And the market for spun bond exploded in China. This happened as the technology was simpler compared to spun lace or needle punching, which gets a little complicated, here technical standards of the output are very important.

I believe the Indian machinery manufacturers have the capability to indigenize these technologies. This will mean the machines will be available at relatively lower costs, and production levels will be more suited to the Indian market. This is how the technical textiles industry progressed in the West. Hesitation to indigenize technology stems from the fact that the market is small, and projects are few. It could be termed a `chicken and egg' situation.

What, in your opinion, is the answer to the slow growth of this industry?

As I mentioned earlier, regulations have to be in place, and more importantly, implemented. There is need to create awareness among consumers about the benefits of using nonwovens and technical textiles.  To give an example in Buildtech, roofing material is used to insulate homes from extreme cold and warm temperatures. This results in significant energy savings. Consumers and the user industry need to be made aware of these benefits, and it will spur demand.

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Alongside, marketing efforts are very important. A change in the mindset is necessary. Conventional textiles do not require concerted marketing efforts as the dealer and distributor networks are well established.  But for these differentiated textiles, professional marketing is needed.  Another important aspect that has been neglected is the converter fraternity, an industry that has not been nurtured well. The industry should explore setting up production clusters with a mother plant manufacturing the roll goods, converters producing the end product, and a marketing division selling the products.

This will complete the value chain, and each link will operate in its niche. Such a model could be replicated state wise in the future. Futuristically, and to ensure sustainable growth, the industry and the government need to be aware of the aspects of recycling and waste management of disposables, as consumption grows. This infrastructure also needs to develop, simultaneously. 

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