Magazine December 2013

All the latest information from the textile world

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Textiles paved the way for architecture

A revolution is currently under way in the construction sector. The requirements placed on the shapes, properties and potential of today's buildings are becoming ever more stringent, and can frequently be fulfilled with innovations from the textile industry. Thanks to textiles and entirely new fibers, the classic construction materials wood, stone, concrete and steel can be ideally reinforced – in order to realize building projects that would have been unfeasible only a few years ago because the materials needed for their construction did not yet exist.

Fiber technology is revolutionizing construction

extile construction has picked up a great deal of speed over the past few decades, and this is largely due to fiber technology. Since time immemorial, the tent has been a means of protection from the weather, yet the limits to this kind of protection have always been set by the availability of long-lasting fibers for fabrics or nonwovens. Plant or wool fibers are not resistant enough against tensile forces or the effects of weather, and cannot be used to make long-lasting structures. Low water resistance and also sensitivity to natural ultraviolet radiation also pose additional problems here.

The balance between the structural strength and the weight of a fiber has always imposed a natural limit on textile construction potential: after all, pitching a tent requires enough sturdy poles and taut lines. To design large tents made from natural fiber to be secure enough for securing with ropes, the strength of the fabric has to be reinforced – but this involves adding more weight and thus more of a load on the bearing construction.

Lightweight and more stable

It was only with the development of suitable synthetic fibers with higher tensile strength and lower weights that the construction of buildings with decisive textile elements first became a feasible prospect. Imposing constructions such as roofs made from high-tech membranes for football stadiums are common examples today. The service life of such membranes is still limited, however: They can resist the weather for around 30 years, but then they have to be replaced.

Just an imageThe stadium in Cape Town, South Africa

In the high-quality construction sector, materials such as woven fiberglass with a PTFE coating are used – this protective layer of polytetrafluorethylene is more commonly known as Teflon. Silicon coatings are also used to protect the fibers. Less complex membranes usually consist of polyester with a PVC coating.

Just an imageTextile membrane elements at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, Thailand

Durable nonwovens on the advance

In recent years fabrics have played a major role in the construction sector, but recently the importance of nonwovens has also been increasing. So-called "durable nonwovens" are benefiting from the latest developments in fiber research. Islands-in-the-Sea fibers, processed mechanically via hydroentanglement, needling or a combination of the two, are given properties that make them ideal for use as, say, a tent material. This type of tent nonwoven is already being used by the military. As an alternative to fabric, nonwovens made from Islands-in-the-Sea fibers also have great potential in the lightweight construction of industrial halls.

Just an imageInsulation layer made from nonwovens, between two wall layers

Boom in nonwovens for buildings

Alongside the future application of durable nonwovens, nonwovens in general are already creating all kinds of possibilities in the textile construction sector. In fact the construction industry is already the second most important sales market for nonwovens after cloths for wiping. The big sellers here are polyester nonwovens: they replace the foaming of cavities in old and new buildings and are ideal materials for keeping to ever stricter heat-insulation and soundproofing guidelines. This is because they can be processed easily and quickly, they adapt easily to contours, they have good insulating properties, they replace plaster, and they can also bridge cracks and fissures. The big advantage of polyester nonwovens is their resistance to environmental influences and their consequences – for instance, problems caused by mold and mildew. They are also very easy to recycle.

Smart textiles are the future of architecture

The use of nonwovens as an insulation material or as sturdy and yet lightweight solutions for roofing applications is just one aspect of the huge potential of today's construction textiles. A further promising facet of textile construction is the use of so-called "smart textiles". Integrated conductive strips that react to light, mechanical load or moisture ingress open up all kinds of possibilities for the future. Safety aspects can be taken as much into consideration here as comfort requirements.

Here are some examples of common applications for nonwovens today in the textile construction sector:

ApplicationProduct compositionSectorWhereProperties
Army tentHydroentangled nonwoven
PA microfibers
MilitaryOutside, visibleTearproof, flame-resistant, breathable, water-resistant
Ramparts for military purposes; walls for flood and erosion protectionNeedled staple fiber nonwoven
200 - 400 gsm
Military and civilian useOutside, visibleTearproof, dimensionally stable, weather-resistant, UV-resistant, corrosion-resistant
Insulation of walls in structures, prevention of moisture penetration and moldThree-layer composite made from PP fibers, cover layers needled; product weight 100 – 1,500 gsmPanels, wallsOutside, invisibleHigh permeability, easy handling, rot-proof, resistant against natural substances and organisms
Sarking membranes, underlays, facade membranes and vapour checks100 - 200 gsmRoofIntermediate, invisibleUV-resistant, vapor-permeable, water-bearing, resistant to aging
Insulation nonwovenThermally-bound insulation nonwoven, consisting of 100% polyester fibers; volumetric weights of 15, 20 and 40 kg/m3Panels, wallsInside, invisibleThermal insulation properties, excellent acoustic properties
Bitumen roofing membranesPET spun nonwoven, needled and thermally fixedRoofIntermediate, invisibleMoisture barrier but air-permeable; resistant to mold and mildew; form- and temperature-stable, fatigue-resistant, shock-resistant, cut-resistant
Renovation nonwoven for inside and outsideFine Denier polyester spun nonwoven, fine fiber: 1 - 4 dtex, weight: 25 - 200 gsmPanels, wallsInside and outside, invisibleUnbreakable, unbendable, pleasant, skin-friendly
Textile concept for curtains, shutters; blinds for interior sun protectionCombination of needling and hydroentanglement, microfibers (PA/PET)Interior fixturesInside, visibleHigh UV protection, soundproofing properties, simple preparation, no fraying, washable
PVC-free wallpapersCombination of needling and hydroentanglement, microfibers (PA/PET)Interior fixturesInside, visibleAbrasion-resistant, tension-resistant, dirt-resistant, brilliant colors, high-resolution quality thanks to compatibility with numerous printing technologies, conceals uneven wall areas
Cover webs for paintersMultiply needled thermally fixed recyclable fiber nonwoven integrated with melt fibers, with PE new foil mounted on the entire surface. Approx. 300 gsmAidsInside, visibleAbrasion-resistant, safe, highly absorbent, solvent-resistant, Made in Germany
Venetian blinds made from flax fibers, based on nonwovensFlax fibers, hydroentangledInterior fixturesInside, visibleNatural UV resistance, positive ecobalance, very good cooling effect
Textile outdoor wallpapers for permanent facade renovation, sound absorption and heat protectionNeedled recyclable fibersPanels, wallsOutside, visibleWeather and temperature resistant, low heat conductivity, highly flame-resistant, suitable for allergy sufferers because no problems caused by moths, household dust mites or mildew
Protective, filtering and draining functionsNeedled PE fibers, 150 - 2000 gsm, roll materialTerraces, balconies, ceilings, tunnelsOutside, invisibleRot-resistant, resistant to aging, insensitive to moisture, chemical-resistant, no mildew formation