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Home Articles Automotive and textile industry work closely to develop eco-friendly solutions

Automotive and textile industry work closely to develop eco-friendly solutions

Closer co-operation
between the automobile and textile industry is resulting in vehicles that are
less demanding on the eco-system

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Textiles and automotive
industry have a connection that dates back to the time when automobiles were
invented. The early examples of use of textiles in autos included woven seat
covers inspired by similar such seats found in a horse drawn carriages. The
current trend in textiles as far as autos are concerned, points at an
increasing use of natural materials; materials that replace plastics, which are
as much as 95% recyclable, and rigid and light as well.

With the use of textiles like
Linen finding a way into automotives, an effort is on to reach a stage by 2015
where 95% of the material used to make an automobile is recyclable. Costs play
a major role in deciding the use of textiles in automobiles. On an average,
165-tonnes of fabrics are used in the manufacture of a vehicle every year.

The demand for comfort,
concern for safety while driving, and an increasing focus towards reducing fuel
consumption and CO2 emissions have all augmented the usage of special textiles
in automobiles, especially passenger vehicles. If a car the size of a Toyota
Corolla used 20 kg of textile material earlier, with increasing demand for
sophistication, and a stringent want for using protective textiles, the use has
gone up to 26 kg today, a number that is expected to increase to 35 kg by the
end of 2020.

In emerging markets like
India, where the use of textile materials varies, the trend to launch
strip-down versions in an effort to achieve competitive costs, means that an
automobile could have anywhere between 35 kg and 12 kg of textile materials.
While two thirds of the automotive textiles find use in interior trims, seat
covers, roof, door liners and carpets, textiles also find use in critical auto
components like tyres, hoses, safety belts, and airbags.

Airbags, trims, and truck
covers accounts for nearly 28% of the use in textiles, proving to be the
largest share of the coated fabric demand. With the demand for coated fabrics
expected to grow at a rate of 2.1% on a year-on-year basis in the US market
alone. In the same market the consumption of coated fabric is expected to
exceed 655 million square yards by early 2013.

In Europe, the automotive
industry consumes 1,50,000 tonnes of textiles, the highest in the world, and
followed by USA and Japan. With new regulations, and an effort to meet the ever
increasing challenges forcing automakers to find new and innovative ways of
making an automobile, the demand for coasted fabrics is growing. The rubber
coated fabric materials are expected to outgrow non-rubber coated fabrics.
Knitted and woven fabrics are beginning to find extensive use in the global
automobile fabric arena, followed closely by composites, and non-woven.

Driving the increasing use of
non-woven fabrics in automobiles is the problem-solving approach adopted by
non-wovens manufacturers. Not only are non-woven constructions replacing more
traditional fabrics used for both decorative and functional purposes,
manufacturers are capitalising on the programmable properties facilitated by
their increasingly more sophisticated systems that offer superior performance and
cost advantages.

This brings us to the same
point once again: the use of lightweight, completely recyclable products in
automobiles. Fredenberg of Germany, arguably the world’s biggest non-wovens
manufacturer, estimates 42 per cent of its sales tied to the automotive sector.
In India, companies like Mumbai-based Supreme Nonwovens cater to the need of
the auto industry. Serving clients like Ashok Leyland, Fiat, Force Motors,
General Motors, Ford, Honda, Volvo, Mahindra, Tata, Toyota, and many others,
the company having a collaboration with Treves, has come to have facilities at
Sanand, Vadodara, Vapi, Pune, Dharwad, Bangalore and Chennai. It supplies head
liners, dash inner insulation, door panel, floor module, floor insulation,
parcel shelf, trunk side trim, and trunk floor.

Another company worthy of a
mention is Autotech Nonwovens. The company, specialising in the manufacture of
needle punched felt, is catering to the needs of the auto industry as far as
head liners, floor carpets, trunk carpets,
NVH insulation products, dashboard carpets, and other needle punched
nonwovens are concerned.

The (nonwoven) products
mentioned above shift the focus to use of the circular knitted fabrics as well.
These are used in the interiors of cars for seat covers, door panels,
headliners, headrests, boot covers, sunroofs, and parcel shelves.

Having the virtues of high
flexibility, comfort while traveling, stretchability, and high-grade visual
quality, these fabrics have good potential. With linen manufacturers from
France keen to gather a larger share of the automotive textile market in India
among other industrial segments including apparels, the subject of materials
that are fully recyclable is also gathering force in India.

Consumers are laying more
emphasis on the aesthetics and comfort part of an automobile, choosing one over
the other because the interior simply wasn’t appealing or comfortable, new
technologies are finding their way into India – technologies that call upon the
automotive and textile industry to work closely to be able to address the
rising expectations of vehicle buyers, and regulations.

Interestingly, Chris Bangle,
who is well known for some bold designs to come of BMW, in 2008, came out with
a concept (Gina Light Visionary) using a method employed in the early days of
automobile and aviation. That of a textile body placed on a rigid, articulated
substructure made of aluminium. The result was an adjustable car with simple,
flexible, light and almost ‘organic’ lines.

The skin of the concept car
was stretchable, the surface retractable and could reshape itself according to
the driver’s desire and the law of aerodynamics. The projectors of this concept
car were hidden under mobile lids, giving it a living, almost organic look that
is highly unusual even today in the auto industry.    

With the European market
experiencing a slowdown, it is quite logical for textiles to look at emerging
markets like India. Another reason could be the success of high-end automobiles
in India.

With import duties astronomically
high at 100%, automakers of such vehicles are working towards higher local
sourcing and assembly. Textiles make for important sourcing. An interesting
material Aerogel is among technical textiles, it is finding use in
high-performance heat shielding solutions for trucks, autos, off-road vehicles,
and aerospace vehicles. Employing nano technology, Aerogel blankers made by
Aspen are finding use as firewall insulations, under hood or cab liners,
thermal shields to control local hot spots, battery housings, and diesel
particulate filter systems where Aerogel maintains necessary diesel exhaust
temperatures inside the filter, and reduces exhaust pipe touch temperature.

While modern projects for
improving infrastructure in road and railway construction require soil
stabilisation by geotextiles, woven fabrics are experiencing a profitable
market in the making of door panels, seat covers, side door panelling, and
headrests. New product innovations in auto fabrics sector are further
augmenting growth.

The latest is the creative
combination of seatbelts and airbags. Dr Srini Sundararajan, Passive Safety
Expert led the team at Ford, which developed the new inflatable seat belt in
2009. The belt cum airbag is made with round and smooth edges to give added
comfort to its wearer. This process uses high volume production of cold gas
inflater, making the seatbelt cum airbag to swell almost five times larger than
the width of the normal seat belt. The swelling process is initiated through a
deployment signal from a sensor system. This technique will minimize the extent
of damage, as it distributes the force across the wearers’ body.

If the seat belt cum airbag
is an example of how automakers and textile industry are working together to
address new challenges, the association is also triggering some new,
interesting solutions in areas that are considered as mundane by many.

Benecke-Kaliko’s Acella Eco
Green is a health-friendly product that graces the vehicle’s seating, console,
and door inserts and provides a gentle surface ambiance for skin contact. The
material is suitable for prolonged, direct contact with human skin. Even
babies, with their especially sensitive skin, are not at risk with this
material. The new soft-trim material was tested for 100 parameters of relevance
to human health – with excellent results. The material has obtained Class 1
certification, which means it satisfies the most stringent Oeko-Tex Standard
100 requirements. This level of certification is otherwise conferred solely on
materials in direct contact with a baby’s ultra-sensitive skin. But it is not
just the “small fry” that benefit from the product’s outstanding properties.

Completely free of allergens,
the new soft-trim guarantees all vehicle occupants – and especially those with
delicate skin and allergies – a healthful skin feeling. The soft trim’s
advantages are particularly noticeable on hot

summer days, when more skin
is exposed because motorists and passengers tend to be more lightly dressed.
Transpiration can then trigger increased transfer of substances to the skin.

To prevent substances from
causing bodily and dermatological irritations, Benecke-Kaliko refrains from
using antimony and aggravating heavy metals in Acella Eco Green. Acella Eco
Green is already a standard feature in the new Volvo XC60, which the Swedish
Asthma and Allergy Association have added to the list of vehicles safe for
people suffering from allergies.

A step further, and an
interesting development in the area of automotive textiles, is the coming
together of BASF and Daimler to arrive at the smart forvision concept. The
multi-functional, comfortable and lightweight seats in the smart forvision
offer a unique combination of efficient temperature management and an
energy-saving lightweight design. The duo built a new, lightweight,
self-supporting plastic seat shell as a basis. Based on the fact that a human
body absorbs heat efficiently through certain contact points, the forvision saw
the use of ‘e-textiles’ – thin fabrics with custom-tailored conductive coatings
– instead of conventional seat heating solutions.

With direct heating close to
the body in the middle and lower back area of the seats the forvision seats
provide for a pleasant feeling of warmth. The energy, space and weight-saving
‘e-textile’ technology is also found in the armrests of the doors and ensures
that body contact points sensitive to the cold are also warmed in this area.
Super absorbent containing fleece fabric integrated in the seat greatly
enhances seating comfort through its passive climate control.

Compared with conventional
climate-controlled seats the lightweight seat in the smart forvision, according
to Rohit Roop Ghosh, Senior Regional Manager, Team Automotive Asia at BASF,
does not have the complexity and energy requirement of mechanical ventilation.

The interior fabric of the
smart forvision, he adds, is made with a special kind of micro fibre, which is
ultralight, flame proof, and is also resistant to abrasion. It is also claimed
to be 100% eco-friendly. 

Further developments in the area
of textiles continue. Textiles that would turn the interior of a vehicle, and
even other areas were textiles find application, into a safer, efficient, and
comfortable environment.

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